On Friday, March 5th, NASA announced that the touchdown site of Mars' Perseverance rover has been renamed to honor a transformative thinker who looked to the stars: the late author Octavia E. Butler.
NASA's latest Mars rover, Perseverance, sent a signal that it had landed on the red planet on February 18th. The intrepid rover is on a mission to search for signs of ancient life, and collect samples of rock and soil.
Katie Stack Morgan, the deputy project scientist on the Perseverance team, explained in a press conference why the rover's landing site was named to honor Octavia E. Butler:
"Butler's pioneering work explores themes of race, gender equality in humanity, centering on the experiences of Black women at a time when such voices were largely absent from science fiction [...] Butler's protagonists embodied determination and inventiveness, making her a perfect fit for the Perseverance rover mission and its theme of overcoming challenges [...] Butler inspired and influenced the planetary science community and many beyond — including those typically underrepresented in STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] fields. The fact that her works are as relevant today — if not more so — than when they were originally written and published is a testament to her vision, genius and timelessness.
"[...]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. 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."
This honor is particularly fitting given that much of Butler's work grappled with how humanity's identity as a species will be shaped by space.
The below passage, from Butler's seminal novel Parable of the Sower, perfectly encapsulates why this honor from NASA is so apt. In this section, the novel's young protagonist Lauren Olamina argues that our survival as a species rests on our ability to look beyond Earth.
“The Destiny of Earthseed is to take root among the stars,’” I said. “That’s the ultimate Earthseed aim, and the ultimate human change short of death. It’s a destiny we’d better pursue if we hope to be anything other than smooth-skinned dinosaurs—here today, gone tomorrow, our bones mixed with the bones and ashes of our cities, and so what?”
“Space?” he said. “Mars?”
“Beyond Mars,” I said. “Other star systems. Living worlds.”
“You’re crazy as hell,” he said, but I like the soft, quiet way he said it—with amazement rather than ridicule.
I grinned. “I know it won’t be possible for a long time. Now is a time for building foundations—Earthseed communities—focused on the Destiny. After all, my heaven really exists, and you don’t have to die to reach it. ‘The Destiny of Earthseed is to take root among the stars,’ or among the ashes.”
Thanks to Perseverance, we're now one step closer to the stars.
Celebrate with one of Butler's books!
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