Wednesday, May 18, 2016

What's in a Name?

If SLS could talk, this is what it would say...probably.
Photo credit: NASA (with my snark added)
In 'Romeo and Juliet', Shakespeare penned: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." One could take away from this that a name doesn't fundamentally change the nature of something.

Factually, that may be true...but in practice, we humans are a funny bunch. We grow attached to things and imagine them with personalities. Consider the robotic explorers we send out into the solar system: We cheer when they overcome hardware failures. We weep when they've made their last call to their handlers. We feel pain when they take their final plunge into a planet's atmosphere. We grow attached to these pieces of metal, and mourn their passing, just as if they are living, breathing things...not soulless contraptions built by man.

Names might not impact function, but they matter to us. Would we space nerds have been so attached to something called 'OV-104'? we wouldn't. However, saying 'Atlantis' evokes mental images that any space enthusiast will immediately see in their mind's eye. Same goes for the the words 'Mercury'...and 'Gemini'...and 'Apollo'. Those names convey a special feeling for the programs they represented. Not only that, but the individual spacecraft were christened with meaningful...or, sometimes, playful...names which gave one a sense of personality of the inanimate object carrying our intrepid explorers across the vastness of space.

Certainly, hearing: "Houston...Tranquility Base here...LM-5 has landed." doesn't carry the same impact. It just doesn't.

So, you may be asking, "Curt - what's your point?". My point is that America's next great rocket - the launcher ostensibly meant to carry crew and machines out of low Earth orbit for the first time since the days of the Apollo program - has been stuck with a horrible, clinical-sounding name: the Space Launch System (or 'SLS' for short). Though I love the rocket, I *hate* the name. Heck, even the cancelled predecessor to SLS had a cool-ish name: Constellation.

And while the space shuttle was technically the 'Space Transportation System' (STS), at least the individual orbiters were given meaningful - and memorable - names. While our nation's spacefaring endeavors might only be a few decades old, surely we haven't run out of 'cool' names for our rockets. Come on - this is America...WE LANDED PEOPLE ON THE MOON!!!! We can do better than calling it 'SLS'.

NASA: Names matter. Make it happen.