(NORTHPORT, Ala.) — An Alabama high school student named NASA’s first Mars helicopter that will be deployed to the Red Planet later this summer.
Ingenuity, the name submitted by Vaneera Rupani, was selected for the 4 pound (1.8 kilograms) solar-powered helicopter, NASA said in a statement on Wednesday. The name coined by the junior at Tuscaloosa County High School in Northport was just one of the 28,000 names that were submitted during NASA’s “Name the Rover” essay contest for K-12 students across the United States.
“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. “Ingenuity is what allows people to accomplish amazing things, and it allows us to expand our horizons to the edges of the universe.”
In March, the organization selected the name “Perseverance” for the Mars Rover based on a Virginian student’s essay, but decided to come back to the submitted essays to also pick a name for the helicopter that will accompany the Rover on the trip to the planet.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine then selected Rupani’s name for the helicopter, noting that the name “encapsulates the values that our helicopter tech demo will showcase” when it takes off to Mars. Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby also congratulated Rupani for the honor.
“It was really cool I got to be a part of something like this,” she told the AP.
Ingenuity, which will be deployed to Mars attached to the “Perseverance” Rover in July or August, has already completed testing in a NASA simulation chamber in Southern California. After it arrives on Mars, NASA said the helicopter will maintain a cover to be protected from debris until the timing is right for the aircraft to operate on the planet by itself.
If Ingenuity is successful during its 31-day experimental trip, the small helicopter will prove that powered flights can be accomplished on Mars, NASA said. This year’s mission to Mars is part of a program that also includes missions to the moon to prepare for a possible human exploration of the Red Planet, NASA said.
According to the organization, they plan to land the first woman and the next man on the moon in 2024, and set up a continued human presence “on and around” the moon in eight years so they can use it to send astronauts to Mars.