Alex Mather reads his essay entry on Thursday, March 5, 2020, at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia.
Alex Mather reads his essay entry on Thursday, March 5, 2020, at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia. Aubrey Gemignani/NASA

Perseverance is set to land on Mars later today. The rover was originally known as the Mars 2020 mission — but it got its name in a nationwide contest, won by Alexander Mather, a seventh grade student in Virginia.

When Mather was 11, his parents sent him to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. He saw the capsule of the Saturn V rocket rising over the building in 2018 and lost his mind, Mather said.

“I immediately knew space was something I was doing for the rest of my life,” he said.

Mather wants to get a degree in engineering or science and hopes to work at NASA as an engineer.

In his essay, 13-year-old Mather wrote:

“Curiosity. InSight. Spirit. Opportunity. If you think about it, all of these names of past Mars rovers are qualities we possess as humans. We are always curious, and seek opportunity. We have the spirit and insight to explore the Moon, Mars, and beyond. But, if rovers are to be the qualities of us as a race, we missed the most important thing. Perseverance. We as humans evolved as creatures who could learn to adapt to any situation, no matter how harsh. We are a species of explorers, and we will meet many setbacks on the way to Mars. However, we can persevere. We, not as a nation but as humans, will not give up. Even faced with bitter losses such as Opportunity and Vikram 2, the human race will always persevere into the future.”

The name was announced by Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate’s associate administrator.

“Alex’s entry captured the spirit of exploration,” said Zurbuchen. “Like every exploration mission before, our rover is going to face challenges, and it’s going to make amazing discoveries. It’s already surmounted many obstacles to get us to the point where we are today — processing for launch. Alex and his classmates are the Artemis Generation, and they’re going to be taking the next steps into space that lead to Mars. That inspiring work will always require perseverance. We can’t wait to see that nameplate on Mars.”

Students have helped name Mars rovers since Sojourner in 1997, followed by Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity.

“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.”