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  Naming Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacecraft

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Author Topic:   Naming Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacecraft
carmine9
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From: Montreal, Quebec, Canada
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posted 04-29-2005 09:50 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for carmine9   Click Here to Email carmine9     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have wondered about the traditional privilege allowed the early astronauts to name their spacecraft, and how NASA unceremoniously stopped it from Gemini 4 through Apollo 8.

The two reoccurring stories have NASA brass unhappy/embarrassed over Gus Grissom's choice of "Molly Brown" for GT-3 and Gordon Cooper's "Faith 7" for MA-9 as the origin for the sanction. Why these names should irk management so much has always escaped me as they seem innocent enough and they were great PR to boot. Does anyone know the context in which these names were put forward that might have caused such management displeasure?

Also, I've read that Jim McDivitt and Ed White wanted to call their Gemini "America," but were prevented. Do any of you know of other names suggested/pushed by any other crews that flew on GT-4 through Apollo 7? (ex. Wally Schirra had wanted "Phoenix" for Apollo 7... certainly I'd agree with nixing that one). "America" and "Phoenix" are the only two other names put forward in this string of missions that I am aware of.

Henry Heatherbank
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From: Adelaide, South Australia
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posted 04-29-2005 10:29 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Henry Heatherbank     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I always thought McDvitt's and White's proposed name for the GT-IV spacecraft was "American Eagle" not "America", but I agree it is strange this name wasn't warmly embraced by NASA. One explanation is the pull of Kraft at the time in trying to break the power of the astronauts within NASA. Kraft basically believed they were over-glorified test subjects, but the Dekes, Big Als and Wallys always thought differently. Banning spacecraft names - until it became a necessity in Apollo with two spacecraft in operation concurrently - was a subtle way of putting these guys back in their place.

In terms of other proposed spacecraft names, wasn't another GT-3 contender name "Wabash", or a variant of this, in honour of the American Indian tradition around Mitchell, Indiana, where Gus grew up? Sorry, I don't have my reference source for that handy, but I recall it was a name like that. The source may have been Ray Boomhower's "Gus Grissom: The Lost Astronaut".

Even if curious, yet descriptive names like Gumdrop and Spider (Apollo 9) could be accepted by NASA management, the approval of Charlie Brown and Snoopy was questionable at best. Flippant names on the eve of Mankind's greatest adventure (notwithstanding the Charles Schulz connection with NASA at the time).

I guess if NASA allowed Yankee Clipper in honour of the first all-Navy crew (Apollo 12), then it could hardly oppose Falcon (Apollo 15) in reference to the US Air Force Academy mascot, in honour of the all-USAF crew.

In hindsight, the Apollo 13 crew ought to have researched their Greek mythology a bit better before naming the CM "Odyssey."

Matt T
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posted 04-30-2005 09:14 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Matt T   Click Here to Email Matt T     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I recall reading that NASA had great difficulty getting permission to use the Snoopy character for their Manned Flight Awareness program.

As an extra incentive NASA let it be known that they would send Snoopy to the moon if they could get the permission for the MFA posters, stickers, pins, etc. Finally a direct approach to Schultz gave NASA the green light anyway.

I assume that not wanting to go back on their word, this was the reason for the Apollo 10 craft names.

KSCartist
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posted 05-01-2005 11:35 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for KSCartist   Click Here to Email KSCartist     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Henry Heatherbank:
In terms of other proposed spacecraft names, wasn't another GT-3 contender name "Wabash", or a variant of this, in honour of the American Indian tradition around Mitchell, Indiana, where Gus grew up?
Gus did consider "Wapasha" in deference to the Indian tribes from that area. But he was told that the press would most likely call it the "Wabash Cannon Ball" a well known train nickname. As his father had worked for the rival B&O railroad Gus reconsidered.

Blackarrow
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posted 05-01-2005 12:34 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I'm sure I once read somewhere that McDivitt and White wanted to call Gemini 4 "Little Eva". Can anyone confirm that?

KenDavis
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posted 05-01-2005 06:01 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for KenDavis   Click Here to Email KenDavis     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by carmine9:
Does anyone know the context in which these names were put forward that might have caused such management displeasure?
Grissom wanted to name Gemini 3 Molly Brown after a popular Broadway show of the time 'the unsinkable Molly Brown'. It was a play on words as his previous mission had resulted in the 'sinking' of his capsule.

It is understandable NASA didn't want reminding of that. Cooper's 'Faith 7' seems innocuous enough except NASA couldn't be seen to 'promote' one religious faith over another. Crazy I know, but don't forget many people phoned in to complain that Lovell Borman and Anders reading from the bible on Apollo 8 was 'promoting' the Christian faith.

Call signs only came back when there were two spacecraft and an easy way of identifying them was needed - hence Gumdrop and Spider and Charlie Brown and Snoopy.

I believe Casper, the Apollo 16 Command Module was named after the cartoon character Casper the friendly ghost because that was how one of the wife's of an earlier moonwalker described the film of her husband.

ColinBurgess
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posted 05-01-2005 06:30 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ColinBurgess   Click Here to Email ColinBurgess     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Blackarrow:
I'm sure I once read somewhere that McDivitt and White wanted to call Gemini 4 "Little Eva".
I don't think "Little EVA" got beyond more than a tongue-in-cheek water-cooler suggestion, based on the fact that early in proceedings one of the crew - either McDivitt or White; it hadn't been decided early on - would only do a "little EVA" by standing and having their upper torso poking out through the open hatch in raw space.

If I remember correctly it was a nice pun, as a popular female singer back in the 60s was a gal called Little Eva. Just in case anyone asks, McDivitt declined the chance to do the EVA because he felt he already had far too much to do in the early part of the mission.

And yes, "American Eagle" was definitely the name the very patriotic crew wanted, but Grissom's "Molly Brown" episode put an end to crews naming their spacecraft for some time.

Blackarrow
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posted 05-02-2005 05:57 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks, Colin: that makes perfect sense to me!

sts205cdr
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posted 05-02-2005 06:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for sts205cdr   Click Here to Email sts205cdr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
My impression is that when NASA expressed its displeasure with "Molly Brown," Grissom probably made the issue worse by sarcastically suggesting "Titanic."

Obviousman
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posted 05-20-2005 07:22 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Obviousman   Click Here to Email Obviousman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
My understanding is that when Grissom said he wanted to name the Gemini "Molly Brown" (as said, after the Broadway play), NASA was displeased. He then said if it wasn't 'Molly Brown', he'd name it 'TITANIC'. NASA relented, but afterwards prohibited the crews "officially" naming their spacecraft.

As also said, the practice had to be reintroduced when there were two spacecraft (CSM / LM) and seperate callsigns were needed (i.e Apollo 8 versus Apollo 9 CSM and Apollo 9 LM).

It's actually understandable in some ways. Public opinion always has an effect on operations. Maybe that's why 'black' operations are the best. You do what you want; only the results really matter. I remember how the navigator course after mine had their course badge "banned". They made it anyway, and it remains a very fond and valuable piece of my memorabilia.

KC Stoever
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posted 05-27-2005 08:36 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for KC Stoever   Click Here to Email KC Stoever     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Interesting sidenote to Carpenter's naming of his spacecraft "Aurora." His wife, Rene, mindful of Carpenter's deep roots in Colorado, advocated the name "Rampart" or "Rampart 7," after a notable mountain range in the Centennial state, and "rampart" spoke to our manning the ramparts against the Soviet foe.

No, Scott countered. The name should be celestial and not terrestrial.

He remembered his flights near the North Pole, out of Adak and Kodiak after the Korean War, and seeing the Aurora borealis, and being filled with wonder at the sight.

And then he made the connection with Aurora, the goddess of the dawn, and Project Mercury being the dawn of spaceflight. And Aurora, dawn, seemed right.

Duke Of URL
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posted 05-27-2005 08:54 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Duke Of URL   Click Here to Email Duke Of URL     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by KC Stoever:
And then he made the connection with Aurora, the goddess of the dawn, and Project Mercury being the dawn of spaceflight. And Aurora, dawn, seemed right.
Way back then it was bruited about he named it because he grew up at the corner of Aurora and 7th in Boulder.

KC Stoever
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posted 05-28-2005 10:44 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for KC Stoever   Click Here to Email KC Stoever     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The "7" appellation for all the Mercury spacecraft names was created by a bit of public misunderstanding.

Al's Freedom 7 was so-called because the spacecraft was #7 off the line at McDonnell. Then the public responded, "Oh, that's so nice of Al, to honor all seven Mercury astronauts!!"

Dutifully, Grissom and all his Mercury successors in spaceflight appended the obligatory "7" to the names. I think Aurora 7 was the 17th off the line at McDonnell. But I always misremember this figure.

Regarding "Aurora" and the Boulder connection. Just a story — although you can see the dawn from that particular vantage above Boulder — at least before the trees matured over the past century. I have Carpenter's Korean war correspondence, and the letters he wrote from Adak to Rene about seeing the Aurora borealis above, and active volcanoes below, is mind blowing!

Stephen Clemmons
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posted 05-28-2005 06:25 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Stephen Clemmons   Click Here to Email Stephen Clemmons     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Gus's name for his Gemini spacecraft, the "Unsinkable Molly Brown" as it was known around the Cape, may have been unofficial but there's something that happened after his return that might put a different slant on things.

I was working in the Crew Systems Laboratory in the O&C one evening when Guenter Wendt stopped by. He worked for McDonnell at the time and had a bag of small titanium balls, about the size of a ping pong balls. He said that they were removed from the spacecraft when it was returned to the plant in St. Louis.

His story was that Gus had these balls made up and placed in canvas bags, then put in all the open spaces inside the craft. According to Guenter, it would prevent the spacecraft from sinking. Now, if any of you out there find some of these little balls, you will know what they were for.

Unfortunately, I lost the three that he gave me in my later travels so I have no backup for this story.

Again, it might have been a story that Guenter made up as I've never seen anything on this since. I even asked Betty Grissom to confirm it but she said she had never heard of it either.

carmine9
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From: Montreal, Quebec, Canada
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posted 05-28-2005 07:13 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for carmine9   Click Here to Email carmine9     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by KC Stoever:
And Aurora, dawn, seemed right.
I agree, the choice was perfect and seems uniquely inspired from his own personal experiences of boyhood and his flying. What better places to mine when searching to name a pioneering Spaceship? One does get the sense that Scott Carpenter appreciated the romance and significance of these first voyages perhaps better than the other six did.

moorouge
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posted 01-30-2014 11:12 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Henry_Heatherbank:
In hindsight, the Apollo 13 crew ought to have researched their Greek mythology a bit better before naming the CM "Odyssey."
Reviving an old thread. Yes, 'Odyssey' might have been unfortunate, the definition being "a series of adventures and vicissitudes," but 'Aquarius' was most appropriate as besides being a constellation and an age it also means a "water carrier," a task the LM performed to perfection.

Incidentally, as reported in the contemporary press at the time, it was mooted that Gordon Cooper and Pete Conrad had in mind to call their Gemini 5 'Lady Bird' in honour of the President's wife.

One other point to note — the Russian cosmonauts all had individual call signs and did not use the capsule designation. This they kept throughout all their flights.

Headshot
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posted 01-30-2014 12:55 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Headshot   Click Here to Email Headshot     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Are you certain about that last statement Moorouge?

A quick check of the Praxis Manned Spaceflight Log by Furniss and Shayler does not seem to bear that out. For example, they list only Almaz (Diamond) as the call sign for Voskhod 2, even though it was crewed by Leonov and Belyayev. This is pretty consistent for all Soviet/Russian flight with multiple person crews. Also there are no real call signs listed for the ASTP, just Soyuz and Apollo.

stsmithva
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posted 01-30-2014 01:39 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for stsmithva   Click Here to Email stsmithva     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have somewhere in my collection a document from about 1970 that describes the name of the CSM for the upcoming Apollo 13 as something very, very different from "Odyssey." I can't find it, and some time searching online just now turned up nothing. Does anyone know what this was? It sounded like an obscure constellation or scientific term.

Blackarrow
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posted 01-30-2014 03:14 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
From memory - Auriga?

stsmithva
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posted 01-30-2014 03:39 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for stsmithva   Click Here to Email stsmithva     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
There it is, and here's a March 1970 newspaper article explaining the names Auriga and Odyssey for the upcoming mission. "Neither name has won official sanction for the mission." Auriga means charioteer, and it is one of the 88 modern constellations.

I also notice that someone submitted this as a question for the ASF Astro Chat with Fred Haise, so maybe Haise talked about this on the video.

moorouge
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posted 01-30-2014 04:14 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
There are examples of where the call sign followed a crew member in Russian flights. For example -
  • Nikolayev's Vostok 3 and Soyuz 9 both had Falcon
  • Komarov's Voskhod 1 and Soyuz 1 both had Ruby
  • Popovich's Vostok 4 and Soyuz 14 both had Golden Eagle
  • Filipchenko's Soyuz 7 and Soyuz 16 both had Buran
This said, it would be interesting to have a definitive answer and the anomalies explained.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-30-2014 04:18 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Soviet/Russian call signs are assigned to the mission commander and stay with him on subsequent flights (at least based on my discussions with contemporary Soyuz commanders).

moorouge
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posted 01-31-2014 02:18 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks for response Robert. So it's as I suggested.

However, there is an anomaly. Shatalov's call sign on Soyuz 4 was Amur, but on Soyuz 10 it had changed to Granit. Is there a reason for this?

A late thought - 'Phoenix' was banded about as a possible name for Apollo 7. However, I much prefer another suggestion, this being 'Rub-a-dub-dub'.

Dave Shayler
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posted 01-31-2014 05:52 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dave Shayler   Click Here to Email Dave Shayler     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Shatalov used the callsign 'Granit' on Soyuz 8 as well.

The Amur-Baikal connections were first applied as codenames to the Cosmos 186 (Amur) and 188 (Baikal) in connection to the major civil railway construction project in progress in Russia to link the Amur river region with the Lake Baikal region, a distance of about 4,300 km. Shatalov (Amur) and Volynov (Baikal) reactivated these for Soyuz 4 and 5. For Soyuz 21 Volynov kept the callsign Baikal.

Leonov used the personal callsign 'Almaz' in memory of his Voskhod 2 Commander but also used the spacecraft radio call sign 'Soyuz' on the flight. This was the case again in 2011 and the launch of Soyuz TMA-21. The spacecraft was called 'Gagarin' but Samokutyaev's call sign is 'Tarkhany'.

The Soyuz commander (eg Padalka) uses the callsign 'Altair' (or 'Altair 1') then Flight Engineer 1 becomes 'Altair-2') and Flight Engineer 2/Cosmonaut Researcher uses the callsign 'Altair-3'. This becomes more complicated if crews exchange Commanders for the flights home.

With regard to Shenzhou flights, it is still not clear (at least not to me!) if the Chinese adopt similar callsigns for their crews. If a collectSPACE'r is aware of such radio call signs I would be interested to hear of them please.

With regard to Apollo call signs, during the research for Jerry Carr's biography we talked at length about possible mission activities and planning for the Apollo 19. Jerry recalled that they had not gone as far as naming their spacecraft, simply because their mission was cancelled before the knew they had a spacecraft to name. Had the mission progressed however he surmised that as both Jerry (LMP) and Fred Haise (CDR) had served in the US Marine Corps they may have chosen a LM call sign to reflect that service. Jerry then added that as Bill Pogue (CMP) was from the USAF he might not have liked that idea unless he could have reflected his Air Force background in naming the CSM. (I have since thought 'Thunderbird' would have been interesting possibility - since Pogue flew with that aerobatic team but I have never asked him).

Headshot
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posted 01-31-2014 07:59 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Headshot   Click Here to Email Headshot     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
Soviet/Russian call signs are assigned to the mission commander and stay with him on subsequent flights (at least based on my discussions with contemporary Soyuz commanders).
Robert, thanks for the clarification on the Soviet/Russian naming convention.

robsouth
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posted 02-03-2014 07:13 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for robsouth     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I believe that on MA-6 John Glenn asked his children to suggest names for his spacecraft. They came up with several names including Columbia, Friendship, Harmony and Hope. Glenn went with Friendship.

Hart Sastrowardoyo
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posted 02-03-2014 08:15 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Hart Sastrowardoyo   Click Here to Email Hart Sastrowardoyo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Dave Shayler:
Had the mission progressed however he surmised that as both Jerry (LMP) and Fred Haise (CDR) had served in the US Marine Corps they may have chosen a LM call sign to reflect that service. Jerry then added that as Bill Pogue (CMP) was from the USAF he might not have liked that idea unless he could have reflected his Air Force background in naming the CSM.
Bulldog and Thunderbird?

moorouge
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posted 02-04-2014 05:49 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Hart Sastrowardoyo:
Bulldog and Thunderbird?
I wonder if they would have said at some point, "Thunderbirds are go!"

As I recall, Thunderbird 3 was the spaceship.

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