Curiosity is the name of the NASA rover that landed safely on Mars and is now crawling around the surface the red planet. According to NASA's mission statement, the high tech robot has a big job to do:
Curiosity was designed to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes. In other words, its mission is to determine the planet's "habitability."
So far, all of the news about the $2.5 billion dollar mission is good news.
After hearing the name Curiosity over and over -- all weekend -- I wondered how NASA came up with the name for the vehicle. As it turns out, NASA didn't name the rover. Rather, Clara Ma -- a young student -- did. Back in 2009, Ms. Ma wrote an essay that won a contest to name the vehicle that would wander the surface of Mars some three years in the future.
Last night, as the science world was focused on Pasadena, CA and NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, Ma (now 15 years-old) was in attendance. She was invited to witness the historic landing, just as she was invited to watch the rocket that launched Curiosity back in November of 2011. The high school student joined a select group of special guests that included:
- Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura on the original "Star Trek")
- Morgan Freeman (from "Deep Impact" and "Through the Wormhole")
- Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher on "Star Trek: Next Generation")
- June Lockhart (from "Lost in Space")
“I saw an article about the Mars Rover and how you can name it and how the girl who named the two Mars Rovers before me, she had entered a contest and won," she told KCAL-TV. "And I thought that would be an amazing thing for me to try and do.”
She eventually beat out 9,000 other students.
“I feel so proud that I named the Rover and they chose my name.”
Before the vehicle was fired into space, Ma was invited to put her signature on the side of the rover. Today, the young lady's name is rolling around the surface of Mars!
Here's Clara Ma's prize winning essay (and let's remember that she wrote this three years ago):
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. Curiosity is such a powerful force. Without it, we wouldn't be who we are today. When I was younger, I wondered, 'Why is the sky blue?', 'Why do the stars twinkle?', 'Why am I me?', and I still do. I had so many questions, and America is the place where I want to find my answers. 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. Sure, there are many risks and dangers, but despite that, we still continue to wonder and dream and create and hope. We have discovered so much about the world, but still so little. We will never know everything there is to know, but with our burning curiosity, we have learned so much.
During a press conference held after Curiosity had successfully landed on Mars, Clara Ma was overheard saying that she would love to work for NASA one day.
NASA should be so lucky.