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SPACEFLICHT, Vol. 20, 2, Fev. 1978

By Curtis Peebles


In the history of the US space programme, the subject of spacecraft names has been a strange chapter. It is a very human side of this century's greatest technical triumph. The names and patch designs express the crews' personal prefer­ences. Unlike the Russians, there was no pattern to the names [ 1 ]. This article seeks to catalogue these names, their origins and meanings.


The first US space mission was named Freedom 7 by its Commander, Alan Shepard. He considered it his prerogative to name the spacecraft; after all, pilots had been naming their aircraft for years. The 7 was the capsule's factory number but all Mercury capsules carried a 7 to symbolise the 7 astronauts.

The next mission was Gus Grissom's Liberty Bell 7, so named because that's what the capsule looked like. After splashdown, its hatch prematurely blew off, sinking the capsule. Grissom escaped but the accident would have an unexpected side effect years later.

The name for the first US orbital mission involved a very careful selection. Glenn set his family to work selecting names. He finally decided on Friendship 7 because it expressed the spirit he wanted to convey.

Aurora 7 was selected by Carpenter because of its celestial significance and for sentimental reasons. It was his old childhood address.

Schirra's Sigma 7 stood for the "sum of many parts". The last Mercury mission, Faith 7, again expressed the spirit Cooper wanted.

Project Mercury

Mercury 3
Mercury 4
Mercury 6
Mercury 7
Mercury 8
Mercury 9

Freedom 7
Liberty Bell 7
Friendship 7
Aurora 7
Sigma 7
Faith 7

The Battle

Grissom, the Commander of the first Gemini mission, had, in the meantime, been giving careful thought to names and to his lost capsule. He finally decided to call Gemini 3 "The Molly Brown" after the play "The Unsinkable Molly Brown". This bit of humour was lost on the NASA bureau­cracy. A directive was issued forbidding names. NASA was concerned about its image and humour didn't quite fit in. Grissom was, in the end, triumphant. "Molly Brown" was used in all communications throughout the mission.

The next two crews were less successful. Gemini 4 and 5 did not go down in history as "American Eagle" and "Lady Bird". The Gemini 5 crew was, however, the first to design a personal mission patch even though they had to fight for it. The patch had the crew names, a covered wagon with the slogan "8 days or bust" on it.

These patches became the symbols of the mission and considerable effort went into their design: the marathon nature of Gemini 7, the spectrum of task of Gemini 8, Cernan's walk in space aboard Gemini 9 and the all navy crew and the high orbit they were to achieve in Gemini 11.

Project Gemini

Gemini 3

Gemini 4

Gemini 5

Gemini 6 through 12

Molly Brown

American Eagle (not used)

Lady Bird (not used)

no name


The Apollo 1 patch had the stars and stripes as the outer rim; the crew's names, the Earth, spacecraft and the Moon in the centre but fate deemed it would never fly. Schirra, Eisele and Cunningham, the Apollo 7 crew, briefly con­sidered a Phoenix bird as their mission patch but a Phoenix arising from the ashes of the fire which had consumed it, was perhaps too symbolic [2].

It was the Apollo system itself which forced a policy change. All missions after Apollo 8* would involve the Lunar Module. To avoid confusion, during separate opera­tions, each spacecraft needed a call sign. The first two were "Gumdrop" (CSM) and "Spider" (LM) of Apollo 9. Spider was particularly appropriate as-the LM looked like some other worldy creature.

*Jim Lovell wanted to name the Saturn V booster, on this mission, Columbiad, after Jules Verne's very similar mission [3].

To prove humour had won out, Apollo 10 (CSM/LM) was "Charlie Brown" and "Snoopy", named after characters in the "Peanuts" comic strip.

The Apollo 11 crew considered using paired names; "Romeo-Juliet", etc., but, in the end, this was rejected. The name of the LM, "Eagle", came from the mission patch. The CSM was named Columbia after the spacecraft in Jules Verne's "From the Earth to the Moon".

A great deal of effort went into the patch design. The Apollo 11 crew wanted something simple, but direct, which expressed Apollo's peaceful conquest of the Moon and of all the people who made the dream come true. It was Jim Lovell who suggested the Eagle and Mike Collins who prepared the original design. NASA approved after the addition of the olive branch.

Charles Conrad, Apollo 12 Commander, selected Intrepid for the Lunar Module. The CSM became the "Yankee Clipper", appropriate for an all-navy crew. On the patch were four stars, three for the crew members and one for C. C. Williams, the original Lunar Module pilot who was killed in a 1967 plane crash. Alan Bean, his replacement, suggested it [4].

For Apollo 13, the crew reached into American mythol­ogy; "Odyssey" (CSM) was in honour of "2001 A Space Odyssey". Aquarius (LM) was the sign of the Zodiac, popularised in a song title.

Apollo 14, CSM was "Kitty Hawk" after the location of the first powered aircraft flight. The LM was Antares, a star used for navigation during the mission. For the all Air Force crew of Apollo 15, the name of the LM came easy - Falcon, the Air Force Academy mascot. The CSM was named Endeavour after Captain Cook's ship.

Apollo 16 (CSM) was "Casper"* (another cartoon char­acter). The Lunar Module was Orion (a constellation, the Hunter); appropriate as it carried a small ultra-violet tele­scope which would take the first astronomical photos from the Moon.

*Casper (a ghost) was chosen by Mattingly because astro­nauts, on the Moon, looked like apparitions [5].

Apollo 17, which closed out the first generation of lunar exploration, was named "America" (CSM) and "Challenger", (LM) after the HMS Challenger which laid the foundation for modern oceanography 100 years before [6]. On the patch, was a classic statue of Apollo; behind it was a stylised American Eagle and in the distance was the Moon, Saturn and a Galaxy. Though it was the last Apollo, it was not the end of man's exploring. The CSM's, for the three Skylab missions and the ASTP flight, were once more nameless.

Project Apollo

Apollo 1

Apollo 7

Apollo 8

Apollo 9

Apollo 10

Apollo 11

Apollo 12

Apollo 13

Apollo 14

Apollo 15

Apollo 16

Apollo 17

no name

no name

Columbiad (not used)

Gumdrop (CM)

Spider (LM)

Charlie Brown (CM)

Snoopy (LM)

Columbia (CM)

Eagle (LM)

Yankee Clipper (CM)

Intrepid (LM)

Odyssey (CM)

Aquarius (LM)

Kitty Hawk (CM)

Antares (LM)

Endeavor (CM)

Falcon (LM)

Casper (CM)

Orion (LM)

America (CM)

Challenger (LM)

Project Skylab

Skylab 1 through 3

no name

Apollo-Soyuz Test Project

Apollo 18

no name

Space Shuttle

Orbiter 101

Orbiters 102


through 105 have not yet been named

Space, the Final Frontier

By the late spring of 1976, NASA had decided to give each individual shuttle a name. The first, Orbiter 101, would be the "Constitution" because 17 September, the day of the roll-out, was Constitution Day.

At this time, a letter writing campaign began requesting that Orbiter 101 be given a name which not only was a part of America's past but its future as well. A name carried by eight US naval vessels and a starship - Star Trek's "Enter­prise". All through the summer, the letters and petitions from the series' fans were sent to the White House. The final total was nearly 100,000 signatures [7].

NASA was divided on the issue. One group was con­cerned about the commercial aspects of the show; the other believed that the name would give the Shuttle instant recognition.

On 6 September, Dr. James C. Fletcher, NASA Admini­strator, who had served aboard the World War II carrier, Enterprise, and later admitted a certain partiality for the name, met with President Gerald R. Ford to discuss the Viking missions, other NASA activities and the naming of the Shuttle. The President selected "Enterprise" over several others that NASA had provided [8].


At present, Space Shuttles 102 through 105 are nameless. Presumably, one will be named "Constitution" as both "Enterprise" and "Constitution" are from US naval history. It is to be expected the remaining Shuttle will continue this procedure.


1. David J. Shayler, 'Callsigns of Manned Soyuz Missions', Spaceflight, January 1977.

2. 'Spacecraft Anonymous', Life Magazine, 11 October 1968.

3. Life Magazine, 17 January 1969.

4. Gene Farmer, et al First on the Moon, Little, Brown and Co., 1970.

5. Time, 17 April 1972.

6. Richaid S. Lewis, The Voyages of Apollo, Quadrangle, 1974.

7. Aviation Week and Space Technology, 27 September 1976.

8. Aviation Week and Space Technology, 13 September 1976.


The Federal Republic of Germany has taken another major step in interplanetary exploration by agreeing to participate in NASA's 1982 Jupiter Orbiter Probe (JOP) mission. Scheduled to become the first planetary spacecraft to be carried aboard the Space Shuttle, JOP is designed to conduct the most detailed scientific investigation yet of Jupiter, its environment and moons, including the first measurements of the planet's atmosphere.

The mission is composed of an orbiter which will circle the planet for at least 20 months and a probe which will plunge deeply into Jupiter's atmosphere. Under the agree­ment, BMFT will provide a Retro Propulsion Module de­signed for injection of the JOP spacecraft into orbit around Jupiter. It also will provide selected scientific instruments for integration into the scientific payload and the services of selected scientific investigators.

This cooperation with Germany carries forward a rela­tionship established in the NASA/BMFT cooperative probes to the vicinity of the Sun carried out in 1975 and 1976 (Project Helios).

The JOP team will be composed of 114 scientific investiga­tors, including 14 Germans. The orbiter will carry 10 instru­ments, and the probe will carry six. German scientists will be involved in the preparation and operation of both space­craft and in the analysis of resulting data.