Millburn Student Reaches Semifinalist Round in “Name the Rover” Essay Contest

By Steve Sears 

Eli Nadell, a 16-year-old Junior at Millburn High School, didn’t win the NASA “Name the Rover” contest, but he was a national semifinalist.

That’s pretty darn good, and the name he devised, “NOVUS”, is his and his alone.

“Of course, my created name won’t be the name that NASA selects for the Mars 2020 Rover,” says Nadell, “but it is still an incredible honor to have made it to the semifinalist stage. It’s definitely a conversation piece among my friends and family, and the fact that people are still recognizing me and congratulating me for my essay really show how special of an experience this has been. While I don’t have anything official planned, it’s always fun to talk to people about how the name came to be and what the challenge means to me.”

John Yi teaches a course called “Space Exploration” at the high school, where discussed was NASA’s upcoming Mars 2020 Rover, which is set to launch in July 2020. He was excited to have his students enter the Rover naming contest. “I was not at all surprised that Eli’s entry (“Novus”) was chosen as a semifinalist,” he says. “His proposed rover name is quite original, and his supporting essay effectively captures the rover’s significance in the context of why we explore space as well as the role of NASA.” In addition, when Nadell learned that Yi had started an Advanced Space Exploration club for students who have already taken his class and want to enter space-related challenges and competitions, he convinced his teacher to let him join. “That just goes to show how much of a space geek he is.”

“When I found out about Mr. Yi’s club,” says Nadell, “I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of.  Completing space-based challenges with a group of like-minded people interested in space gave me an opportunity to feed my passion for the subject in a way that outside research and general interest could not.” 

Nadell explains how he came up with the name which placed him with 154 other semifinalists. “The search for life on a planet where no human has ever set foot was, to say the least, new.  And as an homage to NASA’s use of Latin throughout its history, I figured that “novus”, Latin for “new”, would suit the Mars rover well and represent what NASA is trying to accomplish with this mission.”

There’s a deep mutual respect between student and educator, and Nadell sings Yi’s praises as to the quality of his teaching skills. “This year with Mr. Yi has done so much for me in terms of my learning as a student and as a person.  His class delves into so many different facets of the space exploration community and he has really given me an outlet to take in an immense amount of knowledge about a topic that interests me so much. He always says that he could pick any topic in the course, be it a certain spacecraft or a certain movie about space and spend an entire course on it.  This statement rings true for me, as it is clear that Mr. Yi loves what he teaches, and he does an excellent job conveying to the class how important of a field space exploration is. His passion and plethora of knowledge when it comes to space has inspired me to be an inquisitive learner and his lessons oftentimes lead me to do outside research on a particular subject.”


Graduation looms in 16 months for Nadell, and his love of space and its study he will carry with him to his life’s next steps. “My interest in space has always stuck with me throughout my life, and I don’t expect that to change after high school.  I hope that with higher education, I can dive further into some of the more complex theories and aspects of the field, but only time will tell. Whether or not I put my space-related education to formal or professional use is unclear, but I do know for sure that the topics and perspectives I have learned in Mr. Yi’s class will follow me wherever I go.”

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