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SAIO 50 for 50: Aaron Yazzie

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This Week's Spotlight:  Aaron Yazzie ('08, B.S. Mechanical Engineering)

Yazzie (Diné, Ashįįhí (Salt Clan), born for Todích'íi'nii (Bitter Water Clan)) is a Mechanical Engineer at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. He designs mechanical systems for NASA’s robotic space research missions, with a focus on Planetary Sample Acquisition and Handling. Yazzie served as a surface operations downlink chair for the Mars Science Laboratory “Curiosity” Rover after landing in 2012. His first flight hardware landed on Mars on board the Mars InSight Lander in 2018. His second set of flight hardware is aboard the Mars 2020 “Perseverance” Rover, which launched on July 30, 2020, and is expecting to land on Mars in February 2021. Perseverance will drill rock core samples that will be returned to Earth to determine if ancient microbial life exists on Mars. Yazzie was the lead engineer for the Rover’s drill bits.

Yazzie is a Sequoyah Fellow and professional member of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES). In 2016 Yazzie was honored by the Navajo Nation Council for “serving as an inspiration to Diné youth and citizens”, and in 2019 received the NASA JPL Bruce Murray Award “for outstanding and consistent dedication in promoting inclusion and excitement in science and education especially among Indigenous Communities.”

While at Stanford, Yazzie was heavily involved in the Stanford Native American Community, including as staff at the Native American Cultural Center, co-editor of the Coming Voice Newsletter, Powwow Committee member, SAIO officer, Muwekma Staff Member, and most extensively - President of the Stanford Chapter of AISES. 

Aaron's Interview