NASA’s Spacecraft Names Are As Powerful As Their Missions

spacecraft names nasa

NASA spacecraft names are as symbolic as their missions are effective. While NASA follows certain guidelines when selecting mission names, creativity can still come into play here.

Motherboard reports that the process for naming began in the early ’60s with the creation of the Project Designation Committee.


NASA originally designed two spacecraft as part of their Mariner Jupiter-Saturn program (later renamed Voyager), in order to survey outer planets and their moons. NASA also wanted them to deliver messages of friendship or greetings in 55 different languages to any alien civilization they might come across during their voyages. Each craft contains a gold-plated copper disc containing music by Chuck Berry to whale calls as well as greetings spoken out over 55 languages on each spacecraft.

The Voyagers completed their planned flybys of Jupiter and Saturn as well as Uranus and Neptune before leaving our solar system in August 2012, reports io9. Their departure was driven by the discovery that electron density outside our sun’s heliosphere is much lower.


Galileo satellite navigation system was named in honor of Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei. These satellites feature quadruple redundancy for their onboard atomic clocks – providing unparalleled reliability for this mission type.

Galileo’s discoveries during the 16th century challenged Aristotelian views of the universe, showing that stars are far less regular than thought; that the moon surface is marred with numerous craters; and Jupiter has four moons — which helped cement Copernican theory of planet orbiting each other. Modern historical research on Galileo has gone well beyond physical science into his rhetoric (Drake 1978) and power structures within his social milieu (Heilbron 2010) for further insight.


NASA and ESA launched this spacecraft in an unprecedented collaboration, commemorating two renowned scientists – Cassini took pictures of Saturn and its rings, 31 moons, magnetosphere, while Huygens, named for Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695), discovered Titan. Both missions successfully met their objectives.

Cassini performed gravity assist flybys of Venus, Earth and Jupiter before beginning its second extended mission – Cassini Equinox Mission – which ran until September 2017. During that period it orbited Saturn 155 times with 54 flybys of Titan and successfully landing a probe on Titan’s surface.


Kepler spacecraft searches for exoplanets that orbit distant stars by detecting tiny dips in starlight as planets pass in front of their host stars; these transits indicate planet passage. Astronomers have used Kepler to discover over 2000 exoplanets with potential habitats suitable for life, with several of those being confirmed through Kepler data alone.

Kepler Mission honors Johannes Kepler, a 17th-century polymath who developed laws of planetary motion that still shape our understanding of the Cosmos today. Our main aim is to locate Earth-sized planets within their stars’ habitable zones in search of habitable planets to study further.

Engineers gave Kepler a new mission plan known as K2, which still hunts for planets but encompasses more of Earth’s orbit around the Sun.

Mars Rovers

Mariner 4 launched humanity’s study of Mars by gathering close-up images from about 6,000 miles away, followed by JPL designing, manufacturing and landing two robotic rovers to prepare humans for exploration of the Red Planet.

Spirit and Opportunity have now exceeded their original 90-day mission durations, with Opportunity still active as of 2018. Perseverance, which just arrived on Mars earlier this month, will search for signs of life at 28 mile-wide Jezero Crater.

Perseverance will demonstrate technology needed for human exploration of Mars’ surface, such as a robot capable of operating in its atmosphere. Perseverance was chosen through a nationwide student competition; nine final contenders, all from K-12 students were Endurance, Tenacity and Promise; Vision Clarity Perseverance Courage as its four options; Ingenuity Fortitude Courage was the fourth option cited as candidates to become its successor.

Europa Clipper

NASA’s 2024 Europa Clipper mission ends this weekend, and this weekend marks its last chance to submit names for inclusion. This probe will conduct more than 50 close flybys of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa to study if conditions there could support life. Instruments aboard will include cameras and spectrometers for mapping its surface; thermal and magnetic measuring equipment to search for signs of volcanism below the ice; as well as suite of ice-penetrating radars.

Europa Clipper is NASA’s most advanced spacecraft designed for interplanetary missions. Once its solar arrays have been deployed, the craft will measure over 100 feet wide by 16 feet tall.

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