Max Gurtman

Max Gurtman and his mother Katherine Batty gaze at the Northern Lights in Borgarnes, Iceland this past fall.

Max Gurtman, of South Burlington, has been selected as the Vermont semifinalist for the Mars 2020 “Name the Rover” contest’s elementary category.

With more than 28,000 essays submitted by students in kindergarten through 12th grade nationwide, the eight-year-old Orchard Elementary School student is among the 155 semifinalists from across the U.S.

Gurtman’s entry to name the Mars 2020 Rover is GRIT.

“One definition of grit is small loose particles of stone and sand,” Gurtman wrote in his entry essay. “The rover is trying to pick up grit on the surface of the planet Mars. Another definition of grit is courage and strength of mind. Astronauts need to have grit because they are so brave. I hope the people who build the Mars Rover have grit too because I think it takes a long time to build a rover that goes into space.”

The currently unnamed Mars 2020 Rover is a robotic scientist weighing more than 2,300 pounds. It will search for signs of past microbial life, characterize the planet’s climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet.

The spacecraft, targeted for a July 2020 launch, is expected to touch down on Mars in February 2021.

The competition, with NASA and global research and development organization Battelle, is part of NASA’s efforts to engage the public in its missions to the Moon and Mars.

The contest winner will name the rover and get an invitation to see the spacecraft launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida this July.

“I feel proud of myself that I got super far in the contest,” said Gurtman. “I think that tens of thousands of kids entered this contest. If I got semifinalist, I would celebrate by having a party. I would also high five my mom.”

The next phases of judging reduces the competition to nine finalists, and the public will have an opportunity to vote for their favorite name online in late January. The results of the poll will be a consideration in the final naming selection. The grand prize winner will be announced early March 2020.

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