Perseverance is the latest in a long line of Mars rovers to be named via contest by school-age children.

By Meghan Overdeep
August 03, 2020
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Alexander Mather NASA
Credit: NASA

When NASA’s newest Mars rover, Perseverance, launched on Thursday, the high-tech machine took a little piece of Virginia with it.

Perseverance was named by Alexander Mather, a seventh grader at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Fairfax County.

Mather, 13, penned the winning entry to NASA’s “Name the Rover” essay contest last year, beating out 28,000 entries from K-12 students across the U.S.

"Alex's entry captured the spirit of exploration," Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate, said during a celebration at Lake Braddock Secondary School in March. "Like every exploration mission before, our rover is going to face challenges, and it's going to make amazing discoveries.”

Perseverance is the latest in a long line of Mars rovers to be named via contest by school-age children, starting with Sojourner in 1997.

Mather became fascinated with space after a visit to Space Camp in Alabama in the summer of 2018.

“From his first glimpse of a Saturn V—the rocket that launched the Apollo astronauts to the Moon half a century ago— Mather became a bona fide space enthusiast, checking NASA.gov daily, consuming astronaut autobiographies and even 3D-printing flyable model rockets,” press release from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory notes.

When the call went out for students to propose a name for NASA's new Mars rover, Mather knew he wanted to contribute.

"This was a chance to help the agency that put humans on the Moon and will soon do it again," said Mather. "This Mars rover will help pave the way for human presence there, and I wanted to try and help in any way I could. Refusal of the challenge was not an option."

Last week, Mather and his family traveled to Kennedy Space Center in Florida to witness the liftoff.

"To me, Perseverance isn't just about what the mission is, although that is a large part of it. Mars missions do take a lot of perseverance," he told Florida Today. "To me, this mission is a lot about what it means to be human because one of our greatest qualities is perseverance."