NASA's Mars 2020 rover is set to launch next summer and land in Jezero Crater on the red planet in February 2021. It's called the 2020 rover for obvious reasons, but it will carry a new name before launch.
This is a tradition with the Martian rovers. Before it was dubbed Curiosity, the previously deployed plucky rover was known as the Mars Science Laboratory.
This fall, a nationwide "Name the Rover" contest will launch allowing K-12 students in US schools the chance to name the 2020 rover.
NASA hopes that the contest will inspire interest in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, for students and give them an opportunity to learn more about the science and engineering that allows us to explore Mars.
Two partner organizations, Batelle Education in Columbus, Ohio and Future Engineers in Burbank, California, will work with NASA to help run the contest. Batelle will recruit judges and students and open them up to STEM networks. Future Engineers, which regularly supplies students with contests and challenges, will host the website for submitting names.
If you're interested in in becoming a judge for the contest, applications are now open.
"We're very excited about this exceptional partnership," said George Tahu, Mars 2020 program executive in NASA's Planetary Science Division at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "Contests like this present excellent opportunities to invite young students and educators to be a part of this journey to understand the possibilities for life beyond Earth and to advance new capabilities in exploration technology."
The Mars 2020 rover is about the size of a small car and weighs 2,300 pounds. The rover will collect samples that could be returned to Earth by future missions. It will search for signs of possible ancient life on Mars and study Martian climate and geology.
How's 2020 doing?
Recently, the rover has made quite the transformation. In the past few weeks, the wheels and mast have been added, making it look more like a rover than ever.
It's currently stationed in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's clean room to keep it from carrying any bacteria from Earth to Mars.
2020 is carrying an instrument that will help it search for past signs of life on Mars.
The Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals instrument, dubbed SHERLOC, will detect chemicals on Mars that could be linked to life. It will be mounted on the end of the rover's 7-foot robotic arm, along with a laser, camera and spectrometers.
SHERLOC also will carry five samples of spacesuit material, including a piece of an astronaut's helmet and four kinds of fabric, to study how the materials stand up to the radiation astronauts could face on Mars.
This is the first time any materials like this are being sent there.
The arm will soon be mounted on 2020, and the Mars helicopter will be tucked underneath the rover. Once ready, everything will be shipped to Kennedy Space Center to prepare for a launch in July 2020.
And don't forget that there's still time to send your name to Mars aboard the rover. The deadline is September 30, and you'll receive a souvenir boarding pass in return.