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La Cañada History: Kansas sixth-grader wins NASA rover-naming contest, visits JPL

Clara Ma, 15, who named the rover Curiosity, smiles as she turns to the crowd with JPL scientist Ada
When she was in sixth grade, Clara Ma won a Mars rover naming contest, coming up with “Curiosity.” Above, at 15, she smiles with JPL scientist Adam Steltzner applauding behind her during a press conference announcing Curiosity’s successful Aug. 5, 2012 landing on the red planet.
(File Photo / La Cañada Valley Sun)

Ten Years Ago

Out of approximately 9,000 entries in a NASA contest to name a Mars rover the essay written by then 11-year-old Clara Ma, a sixth-grade student at Sunflower Elementary School in Lenexa, Kansas was named the winner. The Mars rover built and managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, expected to launch in October 2011 would henceforth be known as “Curiosity.” Clara visited the La Cañada Flintridge lab in late spring 2009 and was invited to sign her name directly onto the rover while it was being assembled. Three years later, she was back in town to celebrate its successful landing on the red planet.

Twenty Years Ago

A casual, fast-serve Rubio’s Mexican seafood restaurant and a camera store were identified as proposed tenants for a development planned for the northwest corner of Foothill Boulevard at Commonwealth Avenue, the developer told about 30 residents who gathered in City Hall for a community information meeting.


Thirty Years Ago

Three employees were locked in a storeroom and the manager was threatened at gunpoint during a 12:50 a.m. robbery of Reflections restaurant on Foothill Boulevard (where Dish operates today). The two suspects made their escape out the back door carrying $2,277 in cash.

Forty Years Ago

A student versus faculty softball game followed by cookies and punch closed out the school year at Palm Crest Elementary School, which was to be shuttered the following September due to declining enrollment in La Cañada Unified School District.


Fifty Years Ago

A plaque presentation ceremony officially made La Cañada’s new Foothill Volkswagen agency, located on Foothill Boulevard at Gould Avenue (where the Trader Joe’s shopping center is today) the 89th such dealership in Southern California.

Compiled from the Valley Sun archives by Carol Cormaci.

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