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Pick a Mars rover's name

NASA / JPL-Caltech
The Mars Science Laboratory, shown in this artist's conception, will be taking on a
new name before its launch, now scheduled for 2011.

Will we be watching Adventure touch down on Mars in 2012? Or will it be Amelia instead? Or something else equally wonderful? Here's your chance to decide what NASA's next Mars rover will be named - and send your own name along for the ride. P.S.: Stephen Colbert doesn't get a write-in vote on this one.

In response to the space agency's call, more than 9,000 students from across the country sent in suggested names for the Mars Science Laboratory, and the nine top picks were posted to an online polling place today. Here are the choices, plus a little bit of information about the kids who suggested the names:

  • Adventure, from a third-grader in Hudsonville, Mich.
  • Amelia, from a second-grader in Ava, N.Y.
  • Curiosity, from a sixth-grader in Lenexa, Kan.
  • Journey, from an eighth-grader in Tell City, Ind.
  • Perception, from a sixth-grader in Urbana, Ill.
  • Pursuit,  from an 11th-grader in Houston.
  • Sunrise, from a seventh-grader in Pittburgh.
  • Vision, from a 10th-grader in Severna Park, Md.
  • Wonder, from a third-grader in Lemoore, Calif.

The kids each wrote essays to explain their choices, but those essays are being held back until after the winner is announced in late April or early May, said Guy Webster, a spokesman for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Although NASA hasn't announced the names of the finalists, some of them are already getting their day in the media spotlight.

For example, 8-year-old Adia Bulawa has told reporters that she came up with the name Amelia to honor famed aviator Amelia Earhart, who disappeared in 1937 during a round-the-world flight attempt. Nine-year-old Kirstin Montsma came up with "Adventure," according to the Grand Rapids Press. (If you come across further reports about the rover kids, feel free to send them along as comments below.)

Now it's the public's turn to rate the nine names. The polls will be open until next Sunday, and the top vote-getter will be decided by adding up the weighted votes, Webster said.

JPL will invite the winning student to put a signature on the Mars Science Laboratory, which is due for launch in 2011, with landing set for 2012. All nine finalists, as well as 21 semifinalists, will have an opportunity to put a custom-made digital message on a microchip that will be carried on the car-sized robot.

You can add your name to the microchip as well, by following this link to the signup Web page. You can even print out a snazzy certificate that recognizes your participation in the mission. (I already have mine up on the office bulletin board.)

These "send-your-name" opportunities are becoming a standard offering for space missions. This time around, you can click on a link and find out which parts of the country are most represented in the database - and even invite your friends to send their own names to Mars.

NASA's naming contest for a future space station module stirred up quite a bit of buzz this month, due to a write-in campaign for talk-show parodist Stephen Colbert. The winner of that particular contest will be announced next month, and I'll eat an eagle if it turns out that the module is named "Colbert" - even though the write-in received far more votes than the runner-up, "Serenity." After all, the space agency isn't bound to go with the top vote-getter, for the space station module or for the Mars rover.

When it comes to the rover, no write-in votes will be allowed. "That was part of the design for the contest from November on," Webster said. The outcome of this week's vote will be considered as one of the factors for the official name selection, and Webster said NASA fully expects to pick one of the nine listed names.

Here's what JPL said about the contest in a news release last week:

"The naming contest is part of a Space Act Agreement between NASA and Disney. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures is the prize provider for the contest. This collaboration made it possible for WALL-E, the animated robotic hero from the 2008 movie of the same name, to appear in the online content inviting students to participate.

"Scheduled to launch in 2011 and land on Mars in 2012, the rover will use a set of advanced science instruments to check whether the environment in a selected landing region ever has been favorable for supporting microbial life and preserving evidence of such life. The rover also will search for minerals that formed in the presence of water and look for chemical building blocks of life."

 May the best name win!