Countdown to Mars: How NASA involved kids in its Perseverance rover mission


The Mars 2020 rover Perseverance will arrive at the Red Planet this week, and NASA has several ways for kids to get involved ahead of its landing today (Feb. 18).

Perseverance earned its official moniker last year, after NASA held a nationwide “Name the Rover” competition that drew 28,000 essay submissions from K-12 students. This initial pool was narrowed down to nine finalists, including Alex Mather, a Northern Virginia seventh-grader, who proposed the winning name of the rover.

NASA also chose the name Ingenuity for its helicopter from the list of finalists. High schooler Vaneeza Rupani of Alabama submitted the name Ingenuity, which is fitting for the solar-powered helicopter, given it is the first robotic aircraft designed to fly on another planet. When the Mars 2020 mission launched on July 30, 2020, both Mather and Rupani were invited to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida to watch the rocket carrying Perseverance and Ingenuity lift off into space.

Leading up to Perseverance’s landing, students from around the world have been following the rover’s mission through guided educational activities provided by NASA’s “Mission to Mars” student challenge. The different activities throughout the challenge are designed to lead K-12 students in designing and building their own mission to Mars.

The student challenge includes weekly lesson plans and livestream Q&A sessions with Mars 2020 mission experts. The student challenge also features various science experiments and DIY project tutorials, ranging from how to make a crater using household baking ingredients, to building a rubber-band-powered rover or a paper-cup spacecraft and paperclip zipline landing. The challenge culminates today (Feb. 18), when students can land their Mars missions alongside NASA’s Perseverance rover. There is still time to register for the Mission to Mars Student Challenge since the activities can be completed in any order.

In addition to NASA’s student challenge, the space agency released an interactive flipbook with information about the Mars 2020 mission and how the Perseverance rover will land on the surface of the Red Planet. The flipbook also includes a downloadable mission poster, patch and sticker to celebrate NASA’s newest rover at home.

Other fun ways to get involved in the Perseverance landing include listening to sounds of Mars and taking a photo with one of NASA’s Perseverance-themed backdrops. NASA’s “sounds of Mars” playlist features audio from familiar things on Earth, like chirping birds, ocean waves and a bicycle bell, and how different those sounds would be on the Red Planet.

Kids can test their hand at operating a rover on Mars in an online game called “Explore Mars.” The goal of the game is to gather mission points by sending a sequence of commands to the Mar rover, which include navigating the Martian surface and collecting data from target sites. The game simulates the sample caching Perseverance will have to do when it lands in Mars’ 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater.