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'Excited to be here!' Students who named NASA rover and helicopter arrive at KSC to view launch

Florida Today logo Florida Today 7/28/2020 Antonia Jaramillo, Florida Today

Both Alex Mather and Vaneeza Rupani have always been fascinated by space and science, but they never could have imagined that one day they'd get to name a NASA spacecraft.

Mather, who is 13 years old and a seventh-grader at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia, named the Mars Perseverance rover that will fly to space Thursday morning. 

Rupani, who is 17 years old and a high school junior at Tuscaloosa County High School in Northport, Alabama, named the Ingenuity helicopter that will hitch a ride with Perseverance.

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"I came up with Ingenuity because I wanted to answer the question of how is it possible that people can do something as amazing as science on other planets and I thought ingenuity was the one quality that answered that question best," Rupani told reporters Tuesday morning at the Kennedy Space Center.

Both Perseverance and Ingenuity are scheduled to launch atop United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket no earlier than 7:50 a.m. Thursday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 41. 

Weather is currently 80% "go" for the two-hour launch window. 

"I'm ecstatic to be a part of the team already," Mather told reporters. "This is an amazing place with amazing people doing amazing things and there's nowhere else I'd rather be." 

It will also be Mather's and Rupani's first launch that they see in person, but they hope it won't be their last launch since they both plan on working for NASA or an aerospace company one day. 

"Ever since I was little, I've always been reading about space and have always been interested in it," Rupani said. 

Both she and Mather traveled to KSC to view the launch with their families.

After liftoff Thursday morning, Perseverance and Ingenuity will embark on a six-month trip to Mars. The main goal of the mission is to find past signs of extraterrestrial life and attempt to bring them back to Earth. 

"To me, Perseverance isn't just about what the mission is, although that is a large part of it. Mars missions do take a lot of perseverance," Mather said. "To me, this mission is a lot about what it means to be human because one of our greatest qualities is perseverance."  

a man holding a gun: Alex Mather answers questions from the media as he stands next to a replica of the Mars rover Perseverance at Kennedy Space Center Tuesday, July 28, 2020. Mather named the Mars rover that will launch Thursday aboard an Atlas V rocket. Mandatory Credit: Craig Bailey/FLORIDA TODAY via USA TODAY NETWORK © Craig Bailey/FLORIDA TODAY Alex Mather answers questions from the media as he stands next to a replica of the Mars rover Perseverance at Kennedy Space Center Tuesday, July 28, 2020. Mather named the Mars rover that will launch Thursday aboard an Atlas V rocket. Mandatory Credit: Craig Bailey/FLORIDA TODAY via USA TODAY NETWORK

If given the opportunity, Mather would love to go to space and to Mars, fulfilling a life-long dream of his. Rupani, on the other hand, believes that might be a "little too adventurous" for her. 

a man wearing a hat and sunglasses posing for the camera: Vaneeza Rupani answers questions from the media at Kennedy Space Center Tuesday, July 28, 2020. Rupani named the Mars helicopter 'Ingenuity' that will accompany the rover Perseverance to the Red Planet. Mandatory Credit: Craig Bailey/FLORIDA TODAY via USA TODAY NETWORK © Craig Bailey/FLORIDA TODAY Vaneeza Rupani answers questions from the media at Kennedy Space Center Tuesday, July 28, 2020. Rupani named the Mars helicopter 'Ingenuity' that will accompany the rover Perseverance to the Red Planet. Mandatory Credit: Craig Bailey/FLORIDA TODAY via USA TODAY NETWORK

Contact Antonia Jaramillo at 321-242-3668 or antoniaj@floridatoday.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AntoniaJ_11.

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Launch Thursday

  • Rocket: ULA Atlas V
  • Mission: Mars 2020 Perseverance
  • Launch Time: 7:50 a.m.
  • Launch Window: until 9:50 a.m.
  • Launch Complex: Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
  • Weather: 80% "go"

Join floridatoday.com/space at 7 a.m. Thursday for our Livestream show and chat of the launch. We will also be hosting NASA's webcast.

This article originally appeared on Florida Today: 'Excited to be here!' Students who named NASA rover and helicopter arrive at KSC to view launch

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