Perseverance pays off: Meet the Scout who named the next Mars rover

Main image: An artist's rendering of the Perseverance rover on Mars. Inset: Alex and his dad, David, at a January 2020 court of honor.

Here’s the plan: Alexander Mather will get a NASA internship, graduate with an engineering degree and then land a job at NASA. After a few promotions at NASA, he’ll apply to be an astronaut.

First, though, Alex needs to finish seventh grade.

Alex’s goals may seem pretty lofty, but the 13-year-old believes in the power of having a vision.

That motivation, which Alex says he learned to master in Scouting, helps explain why Alex got to name the next Mars rover.

Alex, a Scout in Troop 1853 of the National Capital Area Council, submitted the winning name — Perseverance — in NASA’s “Name the Rover” contest. Perseverance is heading to the red planet this summer.

“I did not think I would be contributing to something that important until I’m out of college, or maybe in an internship,” Alex tells Bryan on Scouting. “Yet at the age of 13, I named this mission. I’m honored to have been selected out of all the amazing entries submitted.”

To be considered, Alex wrote an essay (which you can read here) and had to survive several rounds of judging and voting. The initial pool of 28,000 submissions was reduced to 155 semifinalists and then nine finalists.

“I don’t believe that there was a single wrong answer out of the nine finalists submitted,” Alex says. “Having my submission chosen out of those amazing entries was incredible.”

Perseverance is still scheduled to launch in July or early August despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Because the mission has just a 20-day launch window, it has been deemed a “critical launch operation.” If NASA misses the July 17 to Aug. 5 window, it will have to wait until September 2022 for another chance.

Alex’s Scouting journey

Alex still remembers his first Cub Scout meeting. He was hooked from day one.

“Scouting quickly became a part of my life, with camping trips becoming the pinnacle of exploration for me,” he says. “I joined Boy Scouts for adventure, for fun and for the highly coveted rank of Eagle.”

Alex says Scouting helps him sharpen what it means to have a vision — both big and small.

“Scouting is an excellent place to start with a vision and create something great, whether it’s an awesome pot of meatball stew for lunch, a patrol meeting or the like,” he says.

Alex reads his winning speech at a special event in March.

Advice for other Scouts on making a dream come true

Alex says turning a vision into reality takes four steps:

  1. Convert it into a goal. “Goals are like dreams, but you can see the path to success. I’ll use one of my goals, making Eagle at 14, as an example. I first set out a timeline for myself to do the requirements in, and for me to get the needed merit badges.”
  2. Create a detailed plan. “I met with older Scouts to get as many requirements as possible done. I made sure to go on camping trips. I signed up for as many troop-offered merit badge classes as possible.”
  3. Follow the plan. “If the goal is competitive, as with naming the rover, the winner will be the one who works the hardest, so ensure that you put in as much work as you can.”
  4. Don’t get too confident. “If you are successful, do not let it go to your head, and do not stop there. Use your past successes to influence your future. Eagle at 14 is an excellent thing for any future résumés, and I am proud to be on the path of saying I’ve done it.”

The parental perspective

David Mather, Alex’s dad, has seen his Scouting role change as Alex has moved from Cub Scouts into Scouts BSA. In Cub Scouts, David was in front of the den the whole time.

“At first, they needed a lot of encouragement to pause the playtime long enough to get through the program,” David says.

Each year, though, the Cub Scouts took on more and more responsibility.

When Alex moved into Scouts BSA (then called Boy Scouts), David assumed his role in the troop would be similar to his role in the Cub Scout den.

But as they walked up to the door of the first Troop 1853 meeting, Alex turned to his dad. What he said is something David says is one of his favorite Scouting memories so far.

“He said very flatly, ‘bye, Dad,'” David remembers. “This was something he wanted to do without a parental safety net.”

What Scouting has done for Alex

David says Scouting stands out from other extracurricular activities because it gives Alex “some real agency in his life.”

“One of the first things he came to love most about camping was that he was largely allowed to go explore without some adult looking over his shoulder — so long as he brought a buddy,” David says. “That was a level of freedom that he didn’t have elsewhere, and it gave him a lot of confidence in other areas of his life.”

Alex’s Scoutmaster has noticed this, too. Mark Moyer has watched Alex grow as a patrol leader, shifting the focus away from taking care of himself and onto taking care of his patrol.

“He gets it,” Mark says. “Scouting creates opportunities for young men and women and puts them in situations they are not used to and encourages them to work through it. From this situation and experience, they learn from both the good and the bad situations.”

As Scout volunteers, you can feel proud knowing that you’re helping prepare your Scouts for some out-of-this-world adventures.

When it comes to Alex, Mark says, you can take that literally.

“I hope some day Alex can be an astronaut and personally visit Mars,” Mark says. “He is a young man that could actually do it.”

Thanks to Aaron Chusid of the National Capital Area Council for the tip.

About Bryan Wendell 3282 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.