NAVAJO NATION (KRQE) – Features on the surface of Mars are getting names in Navajo.
It’s common for NASA mission members to nickname landmarks and geologic features to make them easier to keep track of. This time around, the Perseverance Rover team is working with the Navajo Nation to come up with informal descriptors for parts of the martian landscape.
Among them are Navajo words for “red rock,” “diligence,” and “amongst the sand,” and “Máaz” – the Navajo word for “Mars.”
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and a team of advisors came up with a list of 50 names for the NASA team to start with, and they plan to keep adding more. According to a news release, the team had some suggestions, such as “tséwózí bee hazhmeezh,” or “rolling rows of pebbles, like waves.”
“The partnership that the Nez-Lizer Administration has built with NASA will help to revitalize our Navajo language,” said Nez in a news release. “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.”
According to the same news release, Perseverance touched down in a landing site named for Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly National Monument, in the heart of the Navajo Nation.
The news release states that for Perseverance to recognize landmarks that have been labeled in Navajo, it has to be “taught” the language, and the accent marks used in the English alphabet to convey the intonation of the Navajo language cannot be read by the computer languages Perseverance uses.
Mission scientist Aaron Yazzie of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who is Navajo, said in the release that they worked hard to come up with translations that best resemble Navajo spellings, but the team will use English letters without special characters to represent Navajo words.