Twin robotic geologists NASA is sending to Mars will embody in their newly chosen names -- Spirit and Opportunity -- two cherished attributes that guide humans to explore.
NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe and 9-year-old Sofi Collis, who wrote the winning essay in a naming contest, unveiled the names this morning at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. "Now, thanks to Sofi Collis, our third grade explorer-to-be from Scottsdale, Ariz., we have names for the rovers that are extremely worthy of the bold mission they are about to undertake," O'Keefe said.
Sofi read her essay: "I used to live in an orphanage. It was dark and cold and lonely. At night, I looked up at the sparkly sky and felt better. I dreamed I could fly there. In America, I can make all my dreams come true. Thank you for the 'Spirit' and the 'Opportunity.'"
Hers was selected from nearly 10,000 entries in the contest sponsored by NASA and the Lego Co., a Denmark-based toymaker, with collaboration from the Planetary Society, Pasadena, Calif..
Collis was born in Siberia. At age two, she was adopted by Laurie Collis and brought to the United States. "She has in her heritage and upbringing the soul of two great spacefaring countries," O'Keefe said. "One of NASA's goals is to inspire the next generation of explorers. Sofi is a wonderful example of how that next generation also inspires us."
Collis' dream of flying now takes the form of wanting to become an astronaut. Meanwhile, she enjoys playing with her older sister, swimming, reading Harry Potter stories, and her family's three dogs and one cat.
Lego President Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, commenting on the naming contest, said, "The early days of space exploration stimulated the creativity of an entire generation, expanded our imagination and encouraged us to push our limits, making us better and braver human beings. With this project, the Lego Co. wants to bring part of that magic back. Everything we do is aimed at giving children that same power to create, and by involving children in the Name the Rovers Contest and other related playful learning activities, we hope to motivate and inspire the next generation of explorers."
Eleven miles from todays naming ceremony, Spirit, formerly called Mars Exploration Rover A, waited for a launch opportunity on Monday at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Opportunity, the second twin in what is still named the Mars Exploration Rover project, is being prepared for its first launch opportunity on June 25.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Mars Exploration Rover project for the NASA Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.
Information about the rovers and the scientific instruments they carry is available online from JPL at http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/mer and from Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., at http://athena.cornell.edu. Information about the naming contest is available at http://www.nametherovers.org.