Jack Williamson, Roger Zelazny, C.S. Lewis and Fredric Brown recently had features on Mars named after them by officials of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Mars Rover project.
Patricia Rogers of Albuquerque made the announcement during the 32nd Annual Jack Williamson Lectureship at Eastern New Mexico University. Melinda Snodgrass says that when they heard “the first two were our own Jack Williamson and Roger Zelazny. It had most of us in tears.”
“The features named for Jack and Roger are on Mitchelltree Ridge near the Columbia Hills,” said Rogers. It was her suggestion that led to the naming of craters on Mars after sf writers.
In November 2006, Rogers heard a lecture by Dr. Larry Crumpler at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History. Crumpler is Vulcanologist on the staff of the Museum and also part of JPL’s team for the Mars Rovers.
“He is also one of the folks who get to name features on Mars, especially at the Spirit site,” said Rogers. “During his talk that evening he mentioned a feature named Clovis, then said the Spirit Rover’s next move was to head south. I sat there and thought, ‘Hummm – what is south of Clovis… Portales. And who lived in Portales… Jack Williamson. It sure would be cool if a feature on Mars was named after Jack.'” She spoke to Crumpler after the lecture and he was receptive to the idea.
Whether these names, or any others given to Mars’ features by the JPL scientists, will become permanent remains to be seen. As Dr. Tim Parker, a JPL geologist working on the rover mission, explained in a 2004 interview “We give names to features near the rovers for convenience. But it’s important to remember they’re all unofficial.”
The International Astronomical Union is ultimately responsible for naming land features on planets and their moons. For example, the Gazette of Planetary Names explains, large craters, approximately 60 km and larger, are named for deceased scientists who have contributed to the study of Mars; writers and others who have contributed to the lore of Mars.
JPL previously accorded Williamson and Zelazny a less exclusive honor by including their names among over 1 million placed on a microchip aboard the Stardust spacecraft that visited Comet Wild 2 in 2004.