NASA’s name for the Mars location where the newly arrived Perseverance rover touched down is the “Octavia E. Butler Landing.”
The technically informal moniker comes from the Perseverance mission team’s scientists, who named the site after the acclaimed author of multiple Hugo- and Nebula-winning sci-fi stories. Butler rose to prominence during the ’80s, nabbing prestigious awards for her short fiction, notably the novelette Bloodchild. But it was her two-part series from the late ’90s — Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents — that cemented her status as one of the greats.
Butler was also the recipient of the McArthur Genius Grant in 1995, becoming the first science fiction author to receive that prestigious distinction. Sadly, she isn’t around to appreciate this latest honor from NASA. Butler died in 2006 at the age of 58.
“Butler’s protagonists embody determination and inventiveness, making her a perfect fit for the Perseverance rover mission and its theme of overcoming challenges,” said Kathryn Stack Morgan, deputy project scientist for Perseverance, in a statement shared by NASA.
“Butler inspired and influenced the planetary science community and many beyond, including those typically under-represented in STEM fields.”
Officially, the Perseverance rover touched down in Mars’ Jezero Crater, a scientifically noteworthy location due to the belief that the crater once housed water. Seeking out evidence of past (and perhaps present, microbial) life on Mars is a key piece of the rover’s mission, and if there’s evidence to be found it would be in a place like Jezero.
Outer space names are officially handed down by the International Astronomic Union. But, NASA’s announcement notes, it’s not uncommon for researchers to use unofficial nicknames and even reference them in papers.