Press Release

NASA Names Mars Exploration Rovers: Spirit and Opportunity

By SpaceRef Editor
June 8, 2003
Filed under , , ,

In a news
briefing this morning, NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe announced
the winning names for the Mars Exploration Rovers. A contest
run for NASA by the LEGO Company and The Planetary Society whittled
approximately 10,000 entries down to 33, from which NASA chose
the winning student and her entry: Sofi Collis, a 9 year old
3rd grade student from Arizona. In her essay, she submitted
Spirit and Opportunity as her suggested names for the two rovers.
The first spacecraft is scheduled to launch today (June 8),
and the second on June 25.

These "robotic
geologist" rovers arrive at Mars in January 2004.

The Name
the Rovers contest was open for K-12 American students. Essays
justifying the name selections ranged in length from 50 words
to 500 words depending on the grade level.

Company, The Planetary Society, and NASA promoted the contest,
and LEGO ran the contest with assistance from the Society. The
Planetary Society assembled an esteemed group of judges that
narrowed and ranked the final 33 entries that went to NASA.
These judges came from a variety of fields:

  • Andre Bormanis,
    Star Trek writer and science consultant

  • David Brin, science
    fiction author

  • Glenn Cunningham,
    former Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Observer Proj. Mgr.

  • M. Darby Dyar, Assoc.
    Prof. Astronomy, Mount Holyoke College

  • Matt Golombek, JPL,
    Co-chair landing site selection for MER, Proj. Sci. Mars

  • Joe Oliver, Los Angeles
    Unified School District

  • Barbara Scott, Los
    Angeles Unified School District science teacher

  • Donna Shirley, Asst.
    Dean of Engineering, U. of Oklahoma, former JPL

  • Steve Williams, National
    Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution

then decided upon the winning entry from those 33. More information
on the contest can be found at

The winner,
Sofi Collis, did the essay as part of a optional classroom project.
Only informed earlier this week, and asked to keep things quiet
until the announcement, Sofi’s mother described the whole situation
as still very hard to believe.

wrote a moving essay that caught many people’s attention in
the judging process," said Planetary Society Director of
Projects Bruce Betts. "Thousands got involved in Mars Exploration
through this process. The icing on the cake is that Sofi and
her family are absolutely charming." The Planetary Society
also ran naming contests for Mars Pathfinder’s Sojourner Truth
rover, and the Magellan spacecraft

Planetary Society and the LEGO Company are already partnered
in the Red Rover Goes
to Mars
project, an officially selected part of the MER
mission that seeks to inspire and better involve students and
the general public in Mars Exploration. It includes a Planetary
Society provided DVD on each spacecraft that carries the names
of four million Mars enthusiasts; the
Astrobot Diaries
, which are stories of the adventures of
the "Astrobots," LEGO minifigure representations that
appear on each MER DVD; Mars Stations, where using a web browser
you can drive
LEGO rovers in Mars environments around the world
; and Student
, contest selected international students who
will work in operations at JPL during the MER mission.

SpaceRef staff editor.