The two Mars rovers that have been investigating the geology (areology?) of the red planet since soon after they landed on opposite sides of Mars in 2004 have nice, safe names that combine solidity and seriousness with a soupcon of inspiration: Spirit and Opportunity. Can you do better?
NASA and WALL-E, Disney’s hit movie, are sponsoring a contest for students aged 5 to 18 to come up with a name for the next Mars rover, which is to be launched in the autumn of 2009 for an October 2010 landing. Currently weighed down with the less-than-inspiring name Mars Science Laboratory, the six-wheeled car-sized rover will collect soil and rock samples and analyze them for carbon-containing molecules indicative of life or its precursors, as well as environmental conditions that can support microbial life now or have done so in the past.
Students have until January 25 to submit their proposed name—no living people, nothing copyrighted, and no recycling of NASA mission names from the past—along with an essay explaining why it’s appropriate, and NASA will pick a winner in April. The nine finalists (three each from grades K-3, 4-7 and 8-12) will get to send a “special message to the future to be placed on a chip” carried by the rover, NASA says (presumably for some future advanced civilization to find when it makes a pit stop on Mars?), and the grand prize winner gets a trip to the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, where the Mars missions are developed and controlled. One Small Step for a Rover? Life Search? Organic Dreams? I have no doubt you can do better.