Bound to make history as the first aircraft to attempt powered flight on another planet, NASA’s new Mars helicopter now has a name that lives up to the daunting task: Ingenuity.
And it’s all thanks to 17-year-old Vaneeza Rupani.
Rupani, a high school junior from Northport, Alabama, earned the honor of naming the helicopter after she submitted her essay into NASA’s “Name the Rover” contest. While NASA announced in March that its next rover would be named Perseverance based on seventh-grader Alexander Mather’s essay, the agency decided to also choose a name for the helicopter that will accompany the rover to Mars.
Rupani’s entry was among 28,000 essays submitted by K-12 students from every US state and territory, according to NASA, which made the announcement Wednesday.
“The ingenuity and brilliance of people working hard to overcome the challenges of interplanetary travel are what allow us all to experience the wonders of space exploration,” Rupani wrote in her essay, according to a news release by NASA. “Ingenuity is what allows people to accomplish amazing things, and it allows us to expand our horizons to the edges of the universe,” it said.
Rupani has been interested in space science since she was a young child, according to her mother Nausheen Rupani.
“On their way to school every day, she and her dad would pretend they were in a spaceship. They would imagine seeing planets (buildings), stars (traffic lights), etc. on their way and give them names,” Nausheen Rupani told NASA.
To have her submission selected was more than exciting, the teenager said.
“(I thought) ingenuity would be a good name for the helicopter because that is exactly what it took to design this machine,” she told NASA. “The helicopter is an incredible project, and I am thrilled to have a part in its journey.”
Ingenuity and Perseverance are scheduled to launch in July and land next February at Mars’ Jezero Crater, the site of a lake that existed 3.5 billion years ago. While the rover collects samples of Mars, the helicopter will attempt to fly and if successful, it will enable future Mars missions to “add an aerial dimension to their explorations,” according to NASA.
Future aircrafts could help investigate targets that are difficult to reach by rover, such as cliffs, caves and deep craters, and they could also carry science instruments.
The launch of Perseverance and Ingenuity is part of the larger Artemis program, in which NASA intends to land the first woman and the next man on the moon in 2024 and eventually send astronauts to Mars.