Washington (DC) - NASA's Mars Science Laboratory rover, scheduled for launch in 2011, is to be called 'Curiosity', the winning suggestion in a nationwide contest that attracted some 9,000 entries.
Twelve-year-old Clara Ma, a sixth-grade student at the Sunflower Elementary school in Lenexa, Kansas, submitted the winning entry and wins a trip to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, where she will sign her name directly onto the rover as it is being assembled.
A NASA panel selected the name following the contest that attracted more than 9,000 essays.
"Students from every state suggested names for this rover. That's testimony to the excitement Mars missions spark in our next generation of explorers," said Mark Dahl, the mission's program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Many of the nominating essays were excellent and several of the names would have fit well. I am especially pleased with the choice, which recognizes something universally human and essential to science."
Ma decided to enter the rover-naming contest after she heard about it at her school.
"I was really interested in space, but I thought space was something I could only read about in books and look at during the night from so far away," Ma said. "I thought that I would never be able to get close to it, so for me, naming the Mars rover would at least be one step closer."
"Curiosity is an everlasting flame that burns in everyone's mind. It makes me get out of bed in the morning and wonder what surprises life will throw at me that day," Ma wrote in her winning essay. "Curiosity is such a powerful force. Without it, we wouldn't be who we are today. Curiosity is the passion that drives us through our everyday lives. We have become explorers and scientists with our need to ask questions and to wonder."
Curiosity will be larger and more capable than any craft previously sent to land on the Red Planet. It will check to see whether the environment in a selected landing region ever has been favorable for supporting microbial life and preserving evidence of life. The rover also will search for minerals that formed in the presence of water and look for several chemical building blocks of life.