A mountain on Mars will be named after Rafael Navarro González, a Mexican scientist whose research work helped the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) study life on that planet.
“One day your name will be on Mars, I don’t know how, I don’t know in what way, but one day it will be,” his wife, Fabiola Aceves, told the scientist with conviction. Navarro González died at the end of January, due to Covid-19; however, his work will continue to contribute to the development of science in Mexico and the rest of the world.
“I find it very appropriate, because in our many trips through extreme environments, I was always looking for the mountains,” recalled Christopher McKay, a colleague of the Mexican who from NASA has supported the tribute in honor of Navarro González.
US space agency
Navarro González’s research that helped the US space agency to continue advancing in the mission of the Curiosity vehicle – which explores the red planet in search of life, among other tasks – was to identify similar geological conditions in the Atacama Desert and Mars.
At the US space agency, he was a leader in the study of astrobiology and collaborated in the development of the Sample Analysis at Mars, a portable laboratory that has reviewed the chemistry of Martian soil, rocks and air, key elements among the findings made so far.
He graduated from the Faculty of Sciences and was a researcher at the Institute of Nuclear Sciences of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). He completed his postgraduate degree at the University of Maryland, United States. Although he had offers to stay to work in that nation, he rejected them because he wanted to return to Mexico to give back a little of what the National University and the country gave him.
“He gave many lectures and made a lot of diffusion in different parts of the planet. He always told me: ‘Of all the people who listen to me, with a person who is interested in science, I am going to win a scientist over Mexico,’ ”said his widow.
In addition to standing out as a teacher and researcher, his family and his colleagues considered him a good husband, partner, and father. “He was a great scientist, but above all he was a wonderful human being, he was a role model for me,” said McKay, a member of the Planetary Systems area of the Ames Research Center in the United States.
In addition to his contributions to NASA and UNAM, Rafael Navarro conducted research on the role of volcanic lightning in the origin of life and the nitrogen crisis in primitive life. His texts appeared in the world’s leading scientific journals, such as Science and Nature. He also received the Alexander von Humboldt medal awarded by the European Geosciences Union. He is the fifth person to be recognized by naming one of the explored sites on Mars after him.
Although for the Rafael Navarro González mountain, 120 meters high, to be officially called that way, a long process is still needed before the International Astronomical Union, in the research carried out by NASA it is already called as the Mexican.
“We already call it that, Rafael Navarro mountain, and we are going to refer to it that way in any scientific document that involves analysis of the morphology or structure or chemistry of that place,” explained scientist McKay.
Navarro González’s legacy will also endure his spirit of solidarity. The family of the researcher is looking for support to create a foundation in the name of the scientist, which has the purpose of awarding scholarships to young people interested in science.
“There must be many out there, who have the need, who are brilliant and can demonstrate it with all their contributions,” Fabiola Aceves quoted her late husband.
In the Institute of Nuclear Sciences and in the Coordination of Scientific Research of the UNAM they assured that the work of Navarro González will continue to be preserved and continued, “so that his dreams are assumed and completed by the new generations.”
Curiosity will explore the surroundings of Rafael Navarro Mountain on Mars. “The vehicle does not have the ability of the Mexican to climb mountains, so we will be studying the slopes,” explained Christopher McKay.