The European Space Agency (ESA) is sending a spacecraft to Mars, and they’re asking the general public to help name the craft. Did they learn nothing from the Boaty McBoatface debacle?
As BBC News reports, The ESA is currently working on a mission that they hope to land on the Red Planet in 2021. Specifically, they intend to send a rover up there to look for signs of life, past or present. The craft is even scheduled to dig two meters (about 6.56 feet) into the ground to see if it can dig up (literally) any evidence of life.
The rover portion of the mission is actually the second part of the two-part ExoMars project; the first phase of the mission is already in progress, with a satellite currently orbiting the planet. The rover and the satellite will work hand-in-hand (so to speak), to collect, analyze, and transmit data.
But there’s a problem: the rover currently bears the unimaginative name “ExoMars Rover,” and the UK Space Agency, which was awarded naming rights because they’ve contributed the most money, wants something with a little more pizzazz.
At this point, it bears noting that the last time a British scientific agency crowdsourced the name for a project – in this case an ocean-faring research vessel – they wound up with “Boaty McBoatface.”
.@astro_timpeake launches the search for a name for the @ESA_ExoMars rover at @FIAFarnborough! ????— Airbus Space (@AirbusSpace) July 20, 2018
Enter the competition to put forward your idea! Closing date 10 October. #FIA18
October. #FIA18 ➡️ https://t.co/wo28gianmW pic.twitter.com/YuR0z3hiaT
So if you’re thinking that “Marsy McMarsface” or “Spacey McSpaceface” are all but a foregone conclusion at this point, think again. Having learned their lesson for the boat debacle, the ESA isn’t conducting a winner-takes-all online poll. Instead, they’re taking suggestions, but astronaut Tim Peake and a panel of experts will have the final word on the craft’s name.
Peake suggests you consider the craft’s mission in suggesting a name.
“I often get asked, ‘is there life out there beyond Earth?’. It’s a very fundamental question, and it’s one that this rover is going to try to answer.”
Similarly, Dr. David Parker, the director of human spaceflight and robotics at the European Space Agency, suggested that participants consider the names of scientists; perhaps people fundamental in the study of space or biology, for example.
“The Americans called their Mars rovers Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity. We’ve tended in the past to name our missions after famous scientists. But, yes, perhaps this time we go with a name connected with the search for life – biology, genetics, DNA, whatever. Who knows? We just want a great name.”
Participants can suggest names via this website. A winner will be announced on October 10.