Our words were used to help win World War II, and now we are helping to navigate and learn more about the planet Mars.
After successfully landing on the neighboring planet last month, NASA’s Perseverance rover is now ready to explore its ground. Its first scientific focus is a rock named “Máaz” — the Navajo word for “Mars.” That’s just one nickname among many others that have been given to landmarks and geological features on Mars in the Navajo language.
The rover’s team, in collaboration with the Navajo Nation, has been naming features of scientific interest with Navajo words to honor the most-spoken Native American language in the US. It’s common practice for NASA missions to assign names to landmarks in order to help team members easily refer to geologic features of interest.
Compiled by Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer, the Perseverance rover team now has a list of 50 words in the Navajo language to name scientifically valuable rocks and soil on the red planet. The list includes words like “strength” (“bidziil”) and “respect” (“hoł nilį́”), while Perseverance itself has been translated to “Ha’ahóni.”
Nez told CNN, “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.”