LAURENS COUNTY, Ga. — A Laurens County student didn't think her English homework assignment would come close to winning an essay contest to name NASA's Mars Rover. 

But East Laurens High School sophomore Alexandra Smith says it's inspired her future goals. 

"Math and science have always been the things that really were my interests," Smith said.

She grew up moving from one small town to another, but her interests traveled out of this world.

"I remember sitting outside with my pop, and he'd sit there and go, 'Well there's fixing to be a meteor shower!' or we'd sit outside in a lawn chair, and we'd watch the stars, and he'd point out constellations and stuff," she said.

Her space exploration curiosities led her to research NASA.

"I had kind of had seen where they were like, 'hey we're getting this rover ready,' and it had videos and tutorials of what it was fixing to do," Smith said.

Her English teacher had the class enter NASA's essay contest to name the 2020 Mars Rover.

"I took it, and I ran with it as far as I could go. I put in a bit of research. I made sure I was putting the correct origin of the goddess I chose," Smith said.

She landed on the name Abeona, the Roman goddess of outward travel. Her essay focused on the rover's trip to Mars, because the rover can send back information from the red planet.

"If we can't get it to Mars, we don't learn anything. So I really thought we needed to get it out there, and I really thought Abeona, outward travel, would be a really great collaboration between the two," she said.

Out of 28,000 essays across the nation, Smith's made the cut down to 155, and she's the only semifinalist representing Georgia. She didn't make the final round but says this experience has inspired her.

"It's interested me into maybe aerospace or helping build the next Mars Rover, maybe a different rover. I still want to become an engineer, but maybe hopefully work for NASA one day," Smith said.

NASA will pick a name from the nine finalists in early March. The winning student will get to see the spacecraft launch in July from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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