NASA and the Navajo Elder’s Lunar Message

During the preparations for the Apollo moon landings in the late 1960s and early 1970s, NASA conducted astronaut training in various locations, including a Navajo Indian reservation in the southwestern United States. A memorable encounter took place between a Navajo elder, his grandson, and the space crew. This article explores the events that unfolded during this encounter and sheds light on the unexpected message that made its way to the moon.

While herding animals one day, the Navajo elder and his grandson stumbled upon the space crew. Since the elder only spoke Navajo, his grandson acted as the translator. The elder, curious about the crew’s activities, asked a question that was relayed to the astronauts: “What are the guys in the big suits doing?” In response, one of the crew members explained that they were practicing for their upcoming trip to the moon. Recognizing an opportunity for publicity, the crew member added that they would be leaving behind a special record with greetings in multiple languages. Seizing the chance, the crew member asked if the old man would be interested in providing a greeting to be included in the record.

Upon understanding the request, the Navajo elder became ecstatic and thrilled at the idea of sending a message to the moon alongside the astronauts. The NASA team quickly provided a tape recorder, and the elder proceeded to record his message. The grandson, despite feeling the urge to laugh, refrained from doing so and refused to translate the message to the crew.

After the historic success of the Apollo 11 mission, where astronauts landed on the moon and returned safely to Earth, a new group of astronauts began training in the desert. It was during this time that a NASA official recognized the Navajo elder and his grandson. The official approached them to inform them that the old man’s message had indeed reached the moon, expecting a joyous reaction. However, instead of delight, laughter ensued.

Perplexed by the unexpected reaction, the NASA representative finally realized that the situation was more complex than initially assumed. Intrigued, he requested a translation of the message from the grandson. Chuckling, the young Navajo replied, “Beware of white man; they come to steal your land.”

The encounter between the Navajo elder, his grandson, and the NASA crew highlights the cultural exchange and unexpected twist that occurred during the Apollo moon landing preparations. What started as a simple request for a greeting turned into a poignant message, capturing the lingering pain and mistrust between indigenous communities and settlers. This incident serves as a reminder of the complexities embedded in historical interactions and the significance of cultural sensitivity in such encounters.

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