NASA engineers, scientists and more shine bright this Native American Heritage Month

This November is Native American Heritage Month, and NASA is taking the chance to focus on its indigenous scientists, engineers and more.

NASA’s first indigenous trailblazers embody Mary G. Ross, a “hidden figure” mathematician and engineer and member of the Cherokee Nation whose leading edge work together with work on NASA’s Planetary Flight Handbook and work on early designs for flights to Mars and Venus, and John Bennet Herrington, a NASA astronaut and member of the Chickasaw Nation who, in 2002, turned the primary member of a Native American tribe to fly to space. 

Today, the agency’s Native American staff are reaching for the stars and increasing our understanding of the universe round us by way of groundbreaking science and innovation. 

Related: NASA and Navajo Nation Partner in Understanding the Universe

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Earlier this November, 31 years for the reason that first Native American Heritage Month was celebrated in 1990, NASA shared a page that features lots of the tales of the agency’s present indigenous staff; what they do and how their heritage has influenced their work and lives.

“Native American culture and NASA have both defined my life.  My dream was to work for NASA from a very early age.  This drove me to learn as much as I could about science and nature and gave me the curiosity to extend that drive beyond our planet,” Kenneth Attocknie, a member of each the Caddo and Comanche Tribes who has labored at NASA as a flight controller, astronaut teacher and who now works on the International Space Station’s human life help system, said in a NASA statement.

“Living and growing up within my native community perfectly enabled that desire.  I developed an appreciation for the world around me that enhanced what I discovered off the planet.  Everything is spiritually connected and I’ve learned that even more so working for NASA,” Attocknie added.

Carol “Bird Song” Harrison, a member of the Cheroenhaka Nottoway Indian Tribe, has additionally served in a number of roles at NASA, graduating from the NASA Apprentice Program in 1992, working as wind tunnel technician and now working as a top quality assurance specialist. Her work helps NASA’s ongoing efforts to return people to the moon as a part of the Artemis program. 

The agency additionally highlighted the work of Steve Lighthill, an enrolled descendent of the Karuk tribe who works as visible communications supervisor and public outreach supervisor on the agency’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California. 

“I am proud of my heritage and brought as much of it into my work environment as possible. The fact that I have Native American ancestry has helped guide my choices in my life and career in an effort to return to as close to my roots as possible,” Lighthill stated in a NASA statement.

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Aaron Yazzie, a Navajo (or Diné within the Navajo language) nation member who works as an engineer for NASA’s Mars 2020 mission on the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, spoke to Space.com about his work on the mission in February when the mission’s Perseverance rover touched down on Mars.

“It feels unreal and it is unreal to be part of such a historic [mission],” Yazzie told Space.com on the time. “It feels like we’re contributing knowledge to the whole world on behalf of humanity. The possibility that we might find ancient microbial life on Mars, [it] would be a huge discovery and I’m so excited that I even have a small part in that discovery.”

Harrison, Lighthill and Attocknie are just some staff who NASA has highlighted this month. They are joined by Marcellus Proctor, Orson John, Lauren Denson, Joseph Connolly, Raquel Redhouse, George Gorospe, Powtawche Valerino and more. 

You can study more at NASA’s Native American Heritage Month web page here

NASA’s relationship with Native American communities

Aside from its workforce which is slowly changing into more various, NASA has a rising relationship with Native American communities. 

In February 2021, the agency landed its Perseverance rover on the floor of Mars. As a part of this mission, the Perseverance mission workforce continues to work with the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President to call completely different Martian landmarks using Navajo words

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“The partnership that the Nez-Lizer Administration has built with NASA will help to revitalize our Navajo language,” President Nez stated in a NASA assertion. “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.”

“The partnership that the Nez-Lizer Administration has built with NASA will help to revitalize our Navajo language,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez stated in a NASA 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.”

In 2019, NASA moreover named the celestial physique 2014 MU69, an object found by NASA’s New Horizons mission and the Hubble Space Telescope, “Arrokoth,” a phrase which means “sky” within the Algonquian language, which is spoken by the Powhatan tribes within the area of Maryland the place the invention was made. This identify was chosen after controversy arose from a beforehand chosen identify “Ultima Thule.”

Email Chelsea Gohd at [email protected] or comply with her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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