CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — When NASA's next Mars rover launches toward the Red Planet tomorrow (Nov. 26), the girl who gave the huge robot a name will be there to see it off.
NASA has brought Clara Ma, a Kansas ninth-grader, to Florida to watch the car-size Curiosity rover's liftoff, which is slated for tomorrow at 10:02 a.m. EST (1502 GMT) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station here. Ma submitted the name "Curiosity" during a NASA contest about three years ago, when she was just a sixth-grader.
Ma said she's happy and honored to be back for the rover's departure from Earth, and to be a part of all the pre-launch hubbub.
"It's just been such a great experience," she told reporters today. "I'm just so lucky to be here, and I hope Curiosity makes it there safely." [Photos: Last Look at Curiosity Rover]
Until 2009, the 1-ton Curiosity rover shared the name of its $2.5 billion mission, which is known as Mars Science Laboratory. MSL seeks to assess whether Mars is, or ever was, capable of supporting microbial life, and will start attempting to answer this question when Curiosity touches down on the Red Planet in August 2012.
NASA wanted the rover to have a moniker of its own, so in late 2008 the space agency asked students to propose one. More than 9,000 entries poured in via snail mail and the Internet, and Ma's rose to the topin May 2009.
Ma said the winning name came to her almost immediately after she learned of the contest.
"The first name that came to my mind was Curiosity," she said.
A couple of other names did pop into her head, Ma added, including "Inspiration," but none of them felt right.
"I kept coming back to Curiosity," Ma said. "Mars is such a mysterious and wonderful planet, and it inspires so many questions in all of us."
A future Mars scientist?
After her entry was selected in 2009, Ma traveled to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., where Curiosity was built. She got to sign her name directly onto the rover as it was being assembled.
Ma later got to visit NASA headquarters in Washington. And now here she is in Florida, to witness the launch of what NASA officials say is the most complex and capable robotic explorerever sent to another planet.
"I've gotten to do so many cool things, and be a part of all of this," she said. "I kind of feel like I'm kind of part of the family now."
She may end up becoming a full-fledged member of the NASA family someday.
"I'm so interested in astrophysics and space, and that's definitely something I'd like to try, maybe," she said. "I hope I can come here and work."
Former astronaut Leland Melvin, NASA's associate administrator for education, was part of the same press conference today that Ma participated in. He suggested that maybe she could set her sights a little higher, and follow Curiosity to the Red Planet.
"Or go to Mars, yeah," Ma agreed, laughing.
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Spacecraft and their missions are given descriptive, sometimes technical names, by scientists, engineers and administrators involved. Space agencies sometimes open the naming up to the public or to school children in the form of essay contests.
Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory
The entry from Ms. Nina DiMauro's class at Emily Dickinson Elementary School in Bozeman, Montana suggesting Ebb and Flow for the twin spacecraft was chosen from entries from 900 classrooms in 45 states. Maria Zuber, principal investigator on the mission commented on the student's research before selecting the names and its appropriateness for a mission measuring gravity.
The name Sojourner was chosen for the Mars Pathfinder rover after a year-long, worldwide competition in which students up to 18 years old were invited to select a heroine and submit an essay about her historical accomplishments. The students were asked to address in their essays how a planetary rover named for their heroine would translate these accomplishments to the Martian environment. Initiated in March 1994 by The Planetary Society of Pasadena, California, in cooperation with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the contest got under way with an announcement in the January 1995 issue of the National Science Teachers Association's magazine Science and Children, circulated to 20,000 teachers and schools across the nation. The winning essay suggested naming the rover for Sojourner Truth was selected from among 3500 essays in a NASA/JPL sponsored contest on a heroine and her accomplishments. The essay selected was by then 12 year old Valerie Ambroise of Bridgeport, CT. The second place prize winner was Deepti Rohatgi, 18, of Rockville, MD, who suggested Marie Curie. Other popular suggestions included Sacajewea and Amelia Earhart.
Mars Exploration Rovers
During development and construction, the rovers were known as MER-1 (Opportunity) and MER-2 (Spirit). Internally, NASA also uses the mission designations MER-A (Spirit) and MER-B (Opportunity) based on the order of landing on Mars (Spirit first then Opportunity). The rovers were named through a student essay competition sponsored by NASA, the Planetary Society and Lego. The winning entry was by Sofi Collis, a third-grade Russian-American student from Arizona, who named both rovers.
|“||I used to live in an orphanage. It was dark and cold and lonely. At night, I looked up at the sparkly sky and felt better. I dreamed I could fly there. In America, I can make all my dreams come true. Thank you for the 'Spirit' and the 'Opportunity.'||”|
|— Sofi Collis, age 9|
Mars Science Laboratory
The mission is known as the Mars Science Laboratory. The rover vehicle was named through an essay contest. Finalist names were ranked by the public between March 23–29, 2009 from among Adventure, Amelia, Journey, Perception, Pursuit, Sunrise, Vision, Wonder, and Curiosity. through a public poll on the NASA website. On May 27, 2009, the winning name was announced to be Curiosity from the winning essay by Clara Ma, then a sixth-grader from Kansas.
|“||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.||”|
|— Clara Ma, NASA/JPL Name the Rover contest|
Space Shuttle orbiters
The working name of "space shuttle" was used throughout the program and spacecraft's development and construction. However, Peter Flanigan, Assistant to the President and Assistant to the President for International Economic Affairs to then President Nixon, expressed concern that the word "shuttle" brought to mind 2nd class travel and suggested instead words like “Space Clipper”, “Pegasus”, and “Starlighter.” Shortly after Nixon cemented the "space shuttle" program name in a January 1972 memo announcing the program would proceed.
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Originally to be named Constitution and unveiled on Constitution Day, September 17, 1976, a letter-writing campaign by Trekkies to then PresidentGerald Ford asked that the orbiter be named after the Starship Enterprise, featured on the television show Star Trek. Although Ford did not mention the campaign, instead saying he was "partial to the name" Enterprise, he directed NASA officials to change the name.
Columbia was named for the historical poetic name for the United States of America, like the explorer ship of Captain Robert Gray and the Command Module of Apollo 11, the first manned landing on another celestial body.
Atlantis was named after the mythical lost city of Atlantis, described by Plato as where Atlas was located.
The competition began in 1988 and the winning name was announced on May 10, 1989. Contest guidelines had students select a name based on an exploratory or research sea vessel, HMS Endeavour was the overwhelming selection among the 6,154.
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