Even though ESA's ExoMars 2020 rover is due to launch for the Red Planet in only two years, the robotic explorer is still lacking a name. To remedy this, British ESA astronaut Tim Peake announced today at the Farnborough International Airshow that the UK Space Agency is starting a public competition to find a suitable moniker.

As anyone who has followed Martian exploration missions knows, getting a lander or rover's name right is an important part of the process. Whether it's Viking, Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, or Curiosity, a name takes an inanimate hunk of metal and circuits and endows it with its own unique identity. We'll know that the pioneering days of space are gone when probes just get serial numbers.

Though the joint ESA/Roscosmos ExoMars 2020 mission has been on the books for a number of years, the rover that will seek out signs of life on the Martian surface after landing in 2021 is still sadly anonymous. Since the robot is British-built, the UK Space Agency has taken the lead in rectifying this.

The new competition, which is open to residents of ESA member states, mirrors the 2014 contest to name Tim Peake's six-month mission to the International Space Station. On that occasion, 4,000 entrants produced the winning name "Principia" from Sir Isaac Newton's revolutionary book on physics.

"Mars is a fascinating destination, a place where humans will one day work alongside robots to gather new knowledge and search for life in our Solar System," says Peake, "The ExoMars rover is a vital part of this journey of exploration and we're asking you to become part of this exciting mission and name the rover that will scout the Martian surface."

Though no one knows what the final name will be, some people couldn't resist tempting fate.

"Exploring the surface of another planet is what many scientists and researchers dream of and now a British-built rover will travel the surface of Mars to answer some fundamental questions, and the public can be part of this exciting new chapter by naming the rover," says Science Minister Sam Gyimah. "We want creative and bold entries – I'll start the ball rolling with Rover McRoverface."

The competition runs through October 10, 2018 at 11:59 pm BST. The winner will receive a tour for up to four people of the airbus facility at Stevenage, where the rover is under construction.

The contest entry site can be found here.

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