Tribal leaders hope the names will inspire others to learn the language.
Welcome to Máaz
NASA is honoring the Navajo Nation by naming new Mars discoveries using the Native American language.
Working with the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President, NASA is naming landmarks and discoveries by the Perseverance rover using the Navajo language, CBS News reports. One of Percy’s most recent focuses is a rock that the agency has dubbed “Máaz” after the Navajo word for Mars.
You can see the Máaz rock below:
Revitalizing a Language
The Navajo Nation provided a list of Navajo words for NASA’s rover team to draw on while exploring the Martian surface, the agency said in a statement. Amongst the suggestions include “bidziil” which means “strength,” “hoł nilį́” which means “respect,” and the particularly awesome “tséwózí bee hazhmeezh” which means “rolling rows of pebbles, like waves.”
The initiative has been a bright spot for Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer. They hope that it will encourage more people to learn the language.
“The partnership that the Nez-Lizer Administration has built with NASA will help to revitalize our Navajo language,” said Nez in the 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.”
It’s important to remember that while NASA’s use of the Navajo language is groundbreaking in its own right, their use of nicknames actually serves a very important role: it gives the rover’s team a way to keep track of the thousands of things they discover over the course of their mission.
“Although the International Astronomical Union designates official names for planetary features, these informal names are used as reference points by the team,” NASA said in a statement.
The nicknames also provide NASA a way of honoring individuals and communities who have inspired their engineers. For example, the agency recently named the area where Perseverance landed the “Octavia E. Butler Landing“ after the award-winning science fiction pioneer.
READ MORE: NASA is naming new features discovered on Mars in Navajo language [CBS News]