In his Healy home on Thursday, 10-year-old Kyler Frazier, dressed in a blue NASA shirt, cheered as the federal space agency’s new Mars rover landed on the red planet.
“I was so excited, I clapped with all the Mission Control people. And my baby brother clapped with me,” Kyler said.
He is one of three students in Alaska who were chosen as semifinalists in a contest to name the new rover. The contest received more than 28,000 entries. The winner, seventh grade student Alex Mather of Virginia, gave the rover its name: Perseverance.
But essays written by all 155 semifinalists were carried on a 293-million-mile journey by the spacecraft to the planet. The essays are stenciled onto a tiny silicon chip mounted to the top of the rover.
“It was really exciting to find out that I was one of those 155 people, and I thought I was the luckiest kid in the world,” Kyler said.
Arabella Batori of Cantwell and Katelyn Stiles of Juneau were also semifinalists. Arabella, a junior at Cantwell School, turned 17 on Thursday.
“I’m just excited that it happened on my birthday and I was able to be a part of that. And now I’ll always remember it,” she said.
The rover is seeking signs of past microbial life and will document the planet’s climate and geology. The rover is also collecting samples that will be returned to Earth.
Kyler’s mother, Samantha Frazier, said the family heard about the contest through a Facebook group for their small Interior Alaska community.
Kyler said, “I really like space, and Mars is probably my favorite planet and I like robots so I thought, ‘space robot — why don’t I try to name it?’”
Kyler, who was a third grader at Tri-Valley School when he submitted his essay, chose the name Wonderment.
“The word wonderment means respected and admired and wondering means when you want to know something,” Kyler wrote in his essay. “I chose this name because the Rover should be both respected and admired. The Rover will be trying to discover something that it doesn’t already know. Not everyone or anything can go to space so that’s a pretty good goal and something to look up to.”
Frazier said her son has always been fascinated by space.
“When he found out Pluto isn’t a planet anymore, I think he cried for a solid hour. He must have been in preschool,” she said. “But he just always loved it. He’s had a passion that he’s taught me to love.”
Arabella said that she suggested the name CMAR, which stands for Cantwell Mars Alaska Rover — a creative acronym to honor her beloved community.
“I wanted to maybe promote Cantwell a little bit because even though we’re really small, we’re a really wonderful place,” she said. There are only about 10 students in her school, she said.
Arabella said she was encouraged to submit an essay by teacher Marie Gore, who she said likes to get the students to try to recognize that they have just as much of a chance of winning as a student from a bigger school.
At first, Arabella couldn’t think of any names for the rover, she said. But then she thought about how much she loves her hometown.
“We are super, super small,” she said. Still, with that comes a great sense of community, she said.
“So I like that I have a lot of family here. And I like that we have such beautiful lands where we can go hiking and fishing and hunting,” she said.
Arabella also watched the landing, which was broadcast live, on her phone with her fellow students cheering during class Thursday.
“I could hear people in the next classroom, the elementary, they were all excited because they were watching it live too,” she said.
In Juneau, Katelyn, 14, said that she learned about the contest as an assignment in a middle school computer class and suggested the name Perception.
“I was also super competitive, so I just kind of put it there. I didn’t think it would actually get anywhere, though,” she said.
Katelyn thought Perception would be an apt name because it describes the rover’s mission and follows the theme of previous rovers, which have been named Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity.
Now a freshman at Thunder Mountain High School, Katelyn was surprised to learn during an interview with the Daily News that her essay had made it all the way to Mars.
“It feels weird,” she said of the idea that her written words are now on Mars. She said she was worried that there was a mistake in her essay. (There is not.)
“Even the aliens will facepalm,” she said.
Still, “I have bragging rights now,” she said.
Perseverance’s mission is part of NASA’s Moon to Mars program, which aims to pave the way for human exploration of the red planet and the moon.
Kyler said he hopes to someday explore Mars himself as an astronaut and perhaps find that the stencil of his essay still remains.
Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, said that the lines of text on the silicon chip are smaller than one-thousandth the width of a human hair, according to the Fairbanks Daily News Miner.
“I hope to go there and see it one day, but I probably need a magnifying glass,” Kyler said.