NASA Mars Rover: Teen Picks Landing Site For NASA’s Next Mars Rover?

NASA’s next Mars Rover mission will launch in 2020, and the process for picking the next landing site is already in the works. At the moment, one of the leading suggestions comes from a teen who is still currently enrolled in high school. Alex Longo, of Raleigh, North Carolina, has been enamored with space exploration since the age of 5. Watching a shuttle launch sparked his interest in space.

“My first experience with space exploration was in 2005… I was just 5 years old, and mom and dad had me watch a space shuttle launch.”

Longo has since decided not only did he want to choose the next Mars rover landing site, but he wanted to be the first person to walk on Mars. Alex then began following NASA missions via their website. It was 2014 when Longo discovered NASA’s next Mars Rover mission.

“I saw that they were looking for abstracts from scientists to suggest landing sites… I decided, well, I’ll write something up.”

Longo mentions he has written to NASA in the past.

“Each time, they sent me cool space shuttle mission posters or patches… I’ll have my very small say in this and maybe they’ll send me some cool stuff.”

This time, the teen figured he should tell his mother about his plans to contact NASA. Alex’s mother, Laura Longo recalls the events.

“He said, ‘Hey, Mom, can I send this in to NASA?… And I said, ‘Well, let’s take a look at it.’ And I sat down, and it’s this multi-page scientific document. And I said ‘Oh honey, that’s really cool,’ thinking he’s going to get some more swag — that’s going to be great.”

Long proposed the Mars Rover to land in the same place NASA’s rover Spirit had landed in 2004, Gusev Crater. Spirit found major signs that there might have once been life on Mars. Alex Longo felt Gusev Crater was worth a second look, and NASA agreed.

Interestingly enough, NASA sent Longo an email inviting him to attend the first landing site planning meeting.

“At first, I didn’t believe it,” he says. “I thought it was a dream or something. So I just got up, walked away, and a while later I came back and that email was still there. And I was like, ‘Wow, I actually just got invited to go to a NASA conference!’ How cool is that?”

Long was driven by his parents and met with a NASA specialist near NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. Long was then scheduled to speak during the end of the conference.

“Honestly, I was a bit scared. Because there are 125 Ph.D.s and grad students in that room, and I probably am by far the least experienced or knowledgeable person there. And I’m giving a presentation to all these people… I was focused on breathing, so I wouldn’t fall out of the chair.”

“When he finished, the entire room burst into applause. Everybody recognized how special this was for this young person,” said his mom.

mars rover
[Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS via Getty Images]

These events occurred in 2014 when Long was just 14-years-old. Long has since teamed up with much more experienced Mars scientists. The scientist also favors returning to Gusev Crater. Their proposal is one of eight semi-finalists, a number which will be reduced to four at a meeting next year.

Alex has also received a special invitation to a NASA-sponsored conference that will pick a landing site for the first human landing on Mars.

“Because if I really am going to be the first guy to go there, I want to have a say in where I am landing.”

[Image via Bill Ingalls/NASA]

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