NASA uses Navajo language to name interest points on Mars

NASA honors Native Americans, Navajo engineer using Navajo language

NASA honors Native Americans and a Mars Rover Perseverance team member by naming Mars features with Navajo names.

As a way to honor Native Americans -- and, particularly, a Navajo engineer on the Mars Rover Perseverance team -- NASA is naming points of interest on Mars using the Navajo language.

The latest NASA rover to land on Mars is currently focusing on a rock named after the planet it’s on -- but in Navajo. The rock is called “Maaz,” which means “Mars” in the Navajo language.

The Navajo engineer on the Perseverance team helped get permission and collaboration from his tribe to use the names. So far, Navajo leaders have provided 50 names that NASA can use, such as “tséwózí bee hazhmeezh,” or “rolling row of pebbles, like waves.” Other suggestions included “bidziil,” which means “strength,” and “hoł nilį,” which means “respect.”

The Navajo names being used on Mars are technically considered informal. Official names of planetary features must be agreed upon by the international astronomical union.

Listen: NASA Perseverance rover captures audio from Mars

NASA’s Mars Rover Perseverance successfully landed on Feb. 18 near an ancient river delta in the Jezero Crater to search for signs of ancient microscopic life. Perseverance is now the ninth spacecraft to successfully land on Mars since the 1970s, and each of those spacecrafts have been from the U.S.

Over the next two years, the rover will collect rock samples containing possible signs of bygone microscopic life, which will eventually be retrieved by another rover and brought back to Earth by another rocket ship.

About the Author:

Local 4 meteorologist Paul Gross was born in Detroit and has spent his entire life and career right here in southeast Michigan. Paul has researched, written and produced eight half-hour documentaries for WDIV, as well as many science, historical and environmental stories.