A senior at Tuscaloosa County High School has a special connection to the NASA Perseverance Rover that landed on the planet Mars Thursday afternoon.

County High's own Vaneeza Rupani named the Ingenuity Mars helicopter that was attached to the Perseverance, which will soon attempt the first powered controlled flight on another planet.

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Rupani was one of 28,000 students to enter a NASA contest to name the helicopter and the rover.

"The ingenuity and brilliance of people working hard to overcome the challenges of interplanetary travel are what allow us all to experience the wonders of space exploration," Rupani wrote in her contest essay submission. "Ingenuity is what allows people to accomplish amazing things, and it allows us to expand our horizons to the edges of the universe."

In March 2020, NASA announced that the rover would be named by A Virginian seventh grader, Alexander Mather, and it was decided that the helicopter should have it's own name.

The winning name for the rover was chosen by Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, and Jim Bridenstine, a NASA Administrator, chose the name for the helicopter.

"Ingenuity encapsulates the values that our helicopter tech demo will showcase for everyone when it takes off next year as the first aircraft on another planet’s surface," said Bridenstine. "It took a lot of hard and ingenious work to get the helicopter ready and then placed on the rover, and there’s a lot more going to be required. I was happy we had another great name from the naming contest finalists from which I was able to select something so representative of this exciting part of our next mission to Mars."

NASA says that this mission is a pivotal moment for space exploration and will help prepare for human exploration of Mars.

When Bridenstine selected Rupani's name for the helicopter last year, US Senator Richard Shelby congratulated the Tuscaloosa County student, a junior at the time.

"I am proud that NASA’s Mars Helicopter will be named by Vaneeza Rupani of Northport, Alabama," said Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama. "This is a unique privilege. Ms. Rupani’s essay on why she chose the name 'Ingenuity' highlights her creativity, originality, and intelligence. Her grasp on the importance of exploration is extraordinary, and I am confident that she has a bright future ahead. Congratulations to Ms. Rupani on being selected for this prestigious honor."

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