A Matter of Curiosity

May 27, 2009 2:21pm

Clara Ma — or at least her imagination — will begin a very long journey in 2011.  She’s the winner of a contest run by NASA to give a more poetic name to the Mars Science Laboratory, a 2,000-pound, $2 billion rover NASA plans to send to look for signs of habitability in the Martian soil. Clara, a 12-year-old sixth grader from Lenexa, Kan., suggested the name "Curiosity."  She won out over 9,000 over entrants. Here’s the essay she wrote, as posted by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab: "Curiosity is an everlasting flame that burns in everyone’s mind. It makes me get out of bed in the morning and wonder what surprises life will throw at me that day. Curiosity is such a powerful force. Without it, we wouldn’t be who we are today. When I was younger, I wondered, ‘Why is the sky blue?’, ‘Why do the stars twinkle?’, ‘Why am I me?’, and I still do. I had so many questions, and America is the place where I want to find my answers. Curiosity is the passion that drives us through our everyday lives. We have become explorers and scientists with our need to ask questions and to wonder. "Sure, there are many risks and dangers, but despite that, we still continue to wonder and dream and create and hope. We have discovered so much about the world, but still so little. We will never know everything there is to know, but with our burning curiosity, we have learned so much." NASA, trying to make its missions more public-friendly, has run a bunch of similar contests.  The 2004 Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, were named by Sofi Collis of Arizona, who was nine at the time.  The one time a naming contest backfired was this spring, when Stephen Colbert playfully urged viewers to name Node 3 of the International Space Station after him.  NASA trumped him — "Tranquility," inspired by Apollo 11′s landing site 40 years ago, seemed a touch more dignified — but the node will contain the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill — COLBERT for short.

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