NASA is featuring the Navajo language with its most recent Mars mission. Landing a mission on Mars leaves a mark. It’s not simply the remaining parts of the landing equipment that get left behind on the surface. NASA’s Perseverance wanderer dropped a chunk of itself on the ground on Saturday, yet it was totally arranged.
The meanderer showed up on Mars wearing a belly pan, a protective panel for its sampling system. Part of the rover’s job will include packing samples of Mars rocks and soils into small tubes for later recovery by a future mission.
NASA tweeted a GIF on Saturday showing the pan set up under the meanderer followed by the pan sitting on the ground. “Up next is to check my sampling system now that its cover panel is off,” said NASA.
After landing effectively on the Red Planet on Feb. 18, NASA’s Perseverance wanderer is investigating, focusing its sights on a rock named “Máaz,” the Navajo word for “Mars.” The group behind the meanderer is as a team with the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President, and together they have been naming various features on the Martian surface using words in the Navajo language.
Mission researchers at NASA worked with Navajo (or Diné) colleague Aaron Yazzie, an engineer for NASA’s Mars 2020 mission at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California to look for the Navajo Nation’s permission and collaboration to name these features. (Yazzie built the drill bits that the meanderer will use to gather samples in the world.) Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, Vice President Myron Lizer, and their consultants made a list of Navajo language words that the teams at NASA would have the option to use for the mission.
“The partnership that the Nez-Lizer Administration has built with NASA will help to revitalize our Navajo language,” President Nez said in a NASA statement. “We hope that having our language used in the Perseverance mission will inspire more of our young Navajo people to understand the importance and the significance of learning our language. Our words were used to help win World War II, and now we are helping to navigate and learn more about the planet Mars.”
By assigning names to local landmarks on Mars, it makes it simpler for the mission colleagues to refer to features like shakes and soils. While the planetary features have formal names given by the International Astronomical Union, these informal names are utilized by the team.
“This fateful landing on Mars has created a special opportunity to inspire Navajo youth not just through amazing scientific and engineering feats, but also through the inclusion of our language in such a meaningful way,” Yazzie said in the NASA statement.
The Navajo Nation team gave the wanderer team a list of 50 words that they could use, to begin with, and will cooperate on more names as the meanderer investigates more. This list incorporates names like “Máaz” and “tséwózí bee hazhmeezh” (which signifies “rolling rows of pebbles, like waves”), “bidziil” (which signifies “strength”) and “hoł nilį́” (which signifies “respect”). The Navajo Nation team even incorporated the Navajo language word for “Perseverance” which translates to “Ha’ahóni.”
The wanderer was set to land in one of the numerous quadrangles mapped out on a grid in Jezero Crater, with every “quad” estimating around 1 square mile (1.5 square kilometers) in size. They named these quads after natural areas on Earth with comparative geological features, and Perseverance ended up landing in the quad named after Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly National Monument, or Tséyi in the Navajo language, which is in the heart of the Navajo Nation.
Presently, for Perseverance to recognize these features in the Navajo language, it needs to get familiar with the language. Notwithstanding, the restrictions of the English language can’t completely communicate the intonation and accents in the Navajo words, so the team is attempting to concoct interpretations that better represent Navajo spellings. Meanwhile, they are using English letters to represent the Navajo words. Mission researchers and colleagues are likewise accepting this opportunity to learn Navajo words.
“This partnership is encouraging the rover’s science team to be more thoughtful about the names being considered for features on Mars — what they mean both geologically and to people on Earth,” Perseverance Deputy Project Scientist Katie Stack Morgan of JPL said in the same statement.
Space.com talked with Yazzie at JPL on Feb. 18 quickly following the effective landing of the meanderer, which will look for indications of antiquated life on Mars. “We are so excited, I am so relieved, this is such a great day,” Yazzie told Space.com.
“It feels unreal and it is unreal to be part of such a historic [mission]” Yazzie added. “It feels like we’re contributing knowledge to the whole world on behalf of humanity. The possibility that we might find ancient microbial life on Mars, [it] would be a huge discovery and I’m so excited that I even have a small part in that discovery.”
“We are very proud of one of our very own, Aaron Yazzie, who is playing a vital role in NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance Mission,” President Nez said. “We are excited for the NASA team and Aaron and we see him as being a great role model who will inspire more interest in the STEM fields of study and hopefully inspire more of our young people to pursue STEM careers to make even greater impacts and contributions just as Aaron is doing. As the mission continues, we offer our prayers for continued success.”
The belly pan will end up as one more artifact of human investigation on Mars. It really is ideal there are no tickets for littering on the red planet.