Alex Mather reads from his Mars rover essay Thursday at his school, Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia. Alex’s winning entry in NASA’s “Name the Rover” contest was one of more than 28,000 the agency received. (Aubrey Gemignani/NASA via AP)

The next rover bound for Mars greeted the world Thursday with a new name: Perseverance.

Perseverance has its name thanks to Alex Mather, a Northern Virginia seventh-grader whose idea was among more than 28,000 submissions to NASA by young space enthusiasts.

NASA officials made the announcement during an assembly on Thursday at Alex’s school, Lake Braddock Secondary in Burke, Virginia. He learned Wednesday night that his entry was the winner, but to the rest of the school it was a surprise.

“Very few people, even at NASA, knew,” Alex told KidsPost on Friday. “When I was pulled out of class early to go to the assembly, my teachers assumed I knew as [little] as they did.”

Alex said he wasn’t nervous as he read his essay onstage and told fellow students and NASA TV viewers that a trip two years ago to Space Camp in Alabama fueled his interest in space.

“I immediately knew that space is something that I’m doing for the rest of my life,” he said.


The newly named Mars rover Perseverance, seen in an artist’s drawing, will be the fifth exploratory vehicle on the Red Planet. It follows Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity. (NASA/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

Kids picking rover names is a NASA tradition. They came up with the past four: Curiosity, Spirit, Opportunity and Sojourner.

Each name connects to what the rover aims to do, said Carolina Martinez, who works on public engagement around NASA’s Mars programs at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. For instance, Curiosity’s purpose was to search for signs of past life on Mars.

“The name builds a character and personality, and people connect to that,” she told KidsPost when NASA had narrowed its 2020 “Name the Rover” contest entries to nine. “The rovers are like us, they have names.”

Perseverance is scheduled to land inside the Red Planet’s Jezero Crater in February 2021. The car-size rover will look for signs of ancient, microbial life and collect rock and soil samples for eventual return to Earth.

For Alex, the idea behind the name was not to describe the rover but the people who made it.

“We have the spirit to pursue opportunity, we are full of curiosity, and we have the insight to grow as a species,” he said. “The list [of past rover names] was good, but it felt like it was missing something. It was without the single most prominent characteristic in human beings — perseverance, the ability to keep on pushing the limits and to recover in the face of tragedy.”

NASA

NASA agreed, according to John McNamee, project manager of the Mars 2020 rover mission. “I saw a lot of smiling faces and high-fives,” McNamee said about the team’s reaction to the name. “Perseverance? You bet, that is a worthy name that we can be proud of.”

Alex and his family will get to watch the rover launch at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida this summer on a trip paid for by Amazon Web Services. (Amazon owner Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Perseverance was one of nine finalist names, all suggested by young people ages 9 to 19, that the public could vote for online. The other options were Clarity, Courage, Endurance, Fortitude, Ingenuity, Promise, Tenacity and Vision.

More than 770,000 votes were cast, and NASA considered those results in its final decision.

Alex said he read all the essays submitted by the other finalists and appreciated their ideas.

“I don’t think there was a single wrong choice out of all of those names,” he said. “I was proud even being considered to be a semifinalist, and even more proud to be a finalist, and honored to win.”