Spacecraft Names

spacecraft names

Space names carry an intriguing history. They can evoke emotions or subvert convention.

Names can capture the culture, values, heroes and priorities of a society and its space program. Names give meaning and bring reality to a groundbreaking scientific project; for instance a mission named Lanyue can evoke feelings of excitement at revisiting the moon while Perseverance reminds us that science requires persistence.


Names of spacecraft often hold fascinating histories. For instance, Russia’s Soyuz capsule first flew cosmonauts into space after Voskhod and still operates today; similarly in America’s Discovery and Endeavour shuttles are named after historic vessels which once traversed oceans for decades.

The Planetary Society collected names for Hayabusa2 mission to asteroid Ryugu. Participants could have their names placed on target markers dropped by spacecraft as well as sample return capsules that returned back to Earth in 2023. Furthermore, MAVEN solar sail spacecraft now studies how Mars’ atmosphere escapes into space.

Spacecraft are one of the most frequently featured settings in science fiction literature and cinema, often being featured as protagonists or secondary characters in stories, novels, films and video games. There are even hard sci fi books dedicated to its technical details.


NASA is known for being meticulous when it comes to giving spacecraft names; since the beginning of their organization they have maintained strict naming policies for spacecraft.

The Working Group Planetary System Nomenclature has set forth basic rules for the naming of celestial bodies. Surface features will only be given names with scientific value and their features documented extensively, while names derived from sociopolitical events or people are disregarded until 100 years have passed since their death or event took place.

The Planetary Society collected names for Asteroid Ryugu and included them on target markers dropped by Hayabusa2 onto Ryugu, as well as inside its sample return capsule. Other rules required that names should be written in the language of the country planning the mission, abbreviations should be avoided, duplicate names must not appear within a body or satellite and any that violate religious, military, or commercial activities are not acceptable.


Names can help establish brand recognition and build trust between pilots and passengers on spacecraft, so it is essential that when selecting one you take into account all creative possibilities when choosing its name.

Naming a spacecraft can be an engaging and interactive process. From hosting contests to soliciting public input, naming spacecraft can leave an unforgettable mark while building outreach and interest for its mission.

Fraser: NASA is currently accepting names for their Europa Clipper spacecraft that will head out to Jupiter in 2024 to investigate whether its moon, Europa, can support life. People can submit their suggestions online.

According to NASA’s History series “Origins of NASA Names,” the first naming committee was formed in 1960 with a primary aim of developing guidelines for naming space projects and vehicles. Over time, however, the process has evolved considerably with names reflecting various inspirations such as mythology, astrology, historic connotations or even honoring heroes or pioneers as sources.


Early on in human spaceflight history, astronauts were not permitted to give their craft names; missions were simply designated with numbers. Gus Grissom decided to give Gemini 3 command module his spacecraft a unique identity by giving Molly Brown as its nickname.

Recent controversy has flared up around NASA’s refusal to change the name of James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). JWST will replace Hubble and uncover new insights into our galaxy and beyond; yet astronomers are outraged that its name honors someone who led NASA during the “lavender scare” and was accused of having homophobic policies.

Lucianne Walkowicz, one of those astronomers, is leading an initiative to rename the telescope differently. Along with her colleagues, she launched a petition that has amassed over 1,200 signatures and published an opinion piece in Scientific American about it. NASA says they are reviewing this request but have yet to announce their decision.

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