NASA’s Perseverance rover has been traversing Mars for the past few weeks with major astro-nerds raving about the trek. Upon touchdown on the Red Planet, a milestone was made—during Women’s History Month of all times—where the landing site has been renamed after Octavia E. Butler, the iconic science fiction author.
NASA announced they would informally redesignate the spot inside the Jezero Crater on Friday (March 5), during the same press conference where the agency revealed Perseverance made its first drive on Mars. “Butler’s pioneering work explores themes of race, gender equality in humanity, centering on the experience of Black women at a time when such voices were largely absent from science fiction,” Katie Stack Morgan, Perseverance deputy project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said during the Friday press conference, which is available on YouTube.
The landing location is marked (above) with a star in this image from the High Resolution Imaging Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, paving the way for human exploration, which has emboldened the likes of Elon Musk and Yusaku Maezawa to make commercial space flight a thing sooner rather than later.
The first mission is to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).
“Naming Perseverance’s landing site in honor of Octavia E. Butler honors notable science fiction writers, a theme also used by the Mars Science Laboratory team,” Stack Morgan added during the press conference. “We chose on this mission to continue this theme in appreciation of the role that science fiction writers have played in inspiring so many of us to become the engineers, scientists and explorers who turn science fiction into reality for the next generation.”
The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. In 2004, the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity had their landing site locations dubbed the “Columbia Memorial Station” and “Challenger Memorial Station,” respectively, after the two fallen space shuttle crews of 2003 and 1986. Previously, the Mars Pathfinder lander was renamed the “Carl Sagan Memorial Station” after touchdown with the Sojourner rover in 1997
Butler, 58, was the first Black American woman to win both the Hugo and Nebula awards that honor great science fiction, and the first science fiction writer overall who received a MacArthur Fellowship. Her notable works such as Parable of the Talents, Dawn, and Wild Seed are currently in development with names like Viola Davis, Ava DuVernay, and Damian Duffy adapting them for television and film. “Butler inspired and influenced the planetary science community and many beyond—including those typically underrepresented in STEM [science, technology, engineering and math fields,” Stack Morgan said.
The fact that her works are still as motivating and as important today—if not more so than when they were originally written—is a testament to the endearing legacy of one of our greatest literary minds.
Watch the descent and landing of Perseverance to Mars below: