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Students who named NASA Mars rover, helicopter arrive at KSC to view launch

Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter scheduled to launch Thursday at 7:50 a.m.

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – 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, reports News 6 partner Florida Today.

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.

“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.

[MORE SPACE: NASA’s next Mars rover is brawniest and brainiest one yet | Space roundup: List of launches, landings and out-of-this world announcements]

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."

Alexander Mather, of Burke, Va. stands next to a model of the Mars 2020 rover he named in a contest during a news conference at the Kennedy Space Center Tuesday, July 28, 2020, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Mather, submitted the winning entry in NASA's "Name the Rover" essay contest, making the case to name the Mars 2020 rover "Perseverance." (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Alexander Mather, of Burke, Va. stands next to a model of the Mars 2020 rover he named in a contest during a news conference at the Kennedy Space Center Tuesday, July 28, 2020, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Mather, submitted the winning entry in NASA's "Name the Rover" essay contest, making the case to name the Mars 2020 rover "Perseverance." (AP Photo/John Raoux) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

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."

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.