Word of the Day




a small vehicle used by astronauts for travelling on the surface of a planet

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The noun rover comes from the verb rove, which is now mostly used in literary writing. The word was first used in the early 16th century, with the current meaning of ‘wanderer’ appearing towards the end of that century. The use of rover to refer to a space vehicle dates from the 1960s.


For many centuries, a rover was someone who travelled over a wide area with no fixed route or destination, although the word originally referred to a distant mark used in archery practice. The term started to be used in space travel to refer to an unmanned* and remote-controlled vehicle, subsequently being applied to manned vehicles used during the Apollo space programme. Following two unsuccessful missions by the Soviet Union, an unmanned rover was first successfully sent to Mars by NASA in 1997. A total of four rovers have explored the planet so far, with the evocative names of  ‘Sojourner‘, ‘Opportunity’, ‘Spirit’ and most recently ‘Curiosity’. Another rover is shortly to be sent by NASA to explore the Martian surface, due to land in 2020. The name Rover is stereotypically associated with dogs, but like other ‘traditional’ dog names such as ‘Fido‘ it has fallen out of use.

*A usage note in Macmillan Dictionary points out that the terms ‘manned’ and ‘unmanned’ are best avoided and can be replaced by staffed/unstaffed or crewed/uncrewed.


“Curiosity – the rover and the concept – is what science is all about: the quest to reveal the unknown.”
(Ahmed Zewail, scientist)

“I’ve been a wild rover for many a year…”
(Traditional song)

Related words

capsule, craft, module, pod, shuttle

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

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