Curiosity is name of next Mars rover

A 12-year-old schoolgirl has named a real-life version of WALL-E that will fly to Mars in 2011. Young Clara Ma chose Curiosity for NASA’s robot rover which will run about on the Red Planet looking for signs of life.

The rover – also known as the Mars Science Laboratory – will take over the work of two smaller rovers that have been trundling around the planet for more than five years.

Disney-Pixar, makers of hit film WALL-E, based their loveable rubbish-clearing robot on the pair which are called Spirit and Opportunity. They sponsored the search for a name for NASA’s new robot.

A NASA panel chose Clara’s suggestion of Curiosity from more than 9,000 entries in a contest for students. She will now be invited to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, to sign her name on the rover as it is built.

NASA’s Mark Dahl said schoolchildren from all over the USA suggested names for the rover. “That’s testimony to the excitement Mars missions spark in our next generation of explorers,” he added. “I am especially pleased with the choice, which recognizes something universally human and essential to science.”

Clara, of the Sunflower Elementary school in Lenexa, Kansas, said: “I was really interested in space, but I thought space was something I could only read about in books and look at during the night from so far away.”

In her winning entry, she wrote: “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. 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.”

A microchip on Curiosity will also carry to Mars the names of thousands of space fans who sign up on the internet. Visit the NASA mission’s website here.

Picture: A NASA artist’s impression of the Mars Science Laboratory, now named Curiosity, trundling about on Mars.

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