How NASA’s Space Shuttles Got Their Names

NASA-Space-Shuttle-orbiter (Image: NASA, public domain)

When the Space Shuttle Atlantis touched down in Florida on July 21, 2011, it marked the end of an era. With funding drying up and a mood to do something ‘new’ infecting NASA high command, the 30-year old shuttle program had been forced into early retirement. To some, that Thursday morning in Kennedy Space Center, the stars had never seemed so far away. As Atlantis slowed to a halt on the runway, observers around the world noted that a nation’s dreams stopped with it. The optimism that infused mid-20th century space travel seemed as old and worn as the fleet itself – a relic of a bygone era.

Fast forward two years to 2013 and the shuttles are now housed in museums around the United States. NASA has set its sights on exploring Mars and space travel is moving incrementally into the commercial era. But we here at Urban Ghosts have always retained a special fondness for those shuttle missions – and we’re not ready to say goodbye just yet.

With the last shuttle finally put on public display earlier this summer, we’ve decided to cash-in on our collective childhood nostalgia with a quick look at the history – and naming – of each shuttle:


space-shuttle-enterprise (Image: NASA, public domain)

Enterprise is the original shuttle. A prototype that changed the way we thought about space travel, forever. Dreamt up in the early 70’s, just months after Apollo 11 had put Neil Armstrong on the Moon, it became one of the most-admired designs in space history. The Russians even copied it wholesale, repackaging it as Buran (aka ‘Snowstorm’) and trying to convince the world that the similarities were only coincidental.

Despite all this, Enterprise never flew in space. Originally intended to be refitted for flight, it was passed over first for Challenger and then Endeavour. Throughout its life, Enterprise remained only a prototype – an image of a dream rather than the real thing.

space-shuttle-enterprise-starship-enterprise (Image: NASA, public domain; inset, low res screen shot via Wikipedia)

Naming: From the go, NASA had intended to name their prototype shuttle Constitution, a slightly clumsy appeal to patriotism that impressed no-one. Among those unimpressed was Gerald Ford, who just-happened to be the target of an organised letter-writing campaign by Star Trek fans to get the shuttle named Enterprise. Either Ford was secretly a Trekkie or he simply liked the name, because he suggested NASA call it Enterprise and the rest is history.


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About the author: Morris M



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