Space Names: The Men on the Moon

July 18, 2012 Linda Rosenkrantz

Exactly forty-three years ago, on July 20, 1969, the Apollo 11 spaceflight landed the first humans, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, on the moon, with Armstrong being the first to step onto the lunar surface six hours later, famously describing the event as “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”  This effectively ended the space race with Russia and fulfilled a goal set by John F. Kennedy in 1961.

To commemorate this historic event, here are some space names directly and indirectly related to the Apollo mission, later space missions, and to the moon itself.

Apollo Mission

ApolloThe Apollo program was named after the Greek god of light, music and the sun by NASA manager Abe Silverstein, who said he chose it “like I’d name my baby,” after  perusing a mythology book  and seeing an image of Apollo riding his chariot across the sun.

BuzzEdwin EugeneBuzz” Aldrin, Jr, was the lunar module pilot on Apollo 11.  His childhood nickname came from his sister’s mispronunciation of ‘brother’ as ‘buzzer’ and he later made Buzz his legal name.  Buzz has become the quintessential astronaut name, especially after the advent of Buzz Lightyear in the Toy Story movies.

HadleyHadley Rille and Hadley Mons are the lunar mountains and valley on the landing site, named for John Hadley, the eighteenth century English mathematician who invented the octant, which was used to measure the altitude of celestial objects.

HarrisonDr. Harrison Schmitt, who worked with NASA from 1965 to 1975, was the last of the Apollo astronauts to set foot on the moon; he later served as a US senator.

KennedyPresident John F. Kennedy was very invested in the space program, especially in getting man to the moon.  In tribute, the John F. Kennedy Space Center is the name of the NASA  installation that’s been the launch site for every US manned space flight since 1968.

Neil Neil Alden Armstrong was the first man to set foot on the moon.

WalterWalter Cronkite provided the marathon live TV coverage of the first moon landing.  In his excitement, the first words out of the distinguished broadcaster’s mouth were “Gosh!  Wow!  Gee!”

Other NASA missions and projects

Clementine (officially the Deep Space Program Science Experiment) was launched in 1994 to test spacecraft components under extended exposure to the space environment.  The project was named Clementine after the song “Oh My Darling, Clementine,” since the spacecraft would be “lost and gone forever” following its mission. A Nameberry fave, Clementine was used by Claudia Schiffer, Ethan Hawke and Rachel Griffiths for their daughters.

GalileoThis mission launched a spacecraft in 2003 that was designed to study Jupiter and its moons.  It was named in honor of Galileo Galilei, who discovered the largest moons of Jupiter in 1610.

Gemini-Project Gemini, the second US space program, aimed to develop space techniques in support of Apollo.  It was named for the fact that the craft would hold two crewmen seated abreast, as Gemini in Latin means “twins” or “side-by-side,”  Gemini is also the name of the third constellation of the Zodiac and its twin stars, Castor and Pollux.

MarsMars Pathfinder was the first mission to deliver a robotic rover to  the surface of Mars.  Though the name has a masculine image, Erykah Badu named her daughter Mars.

MercuryNASA’s first human spaceflight program, run from 1959 to 1963, put astronaut Alan Shepard as the first American in space and John Glenn the first American to reach orbit.  It was named for the Roman god seen as a symbol of speed; Mercury is also the name of the fastest-moving planet of the Solar System.

OrionThe name Orion has been used in several space projects–it was the name of the lunar module of the Apollo 16 manned mission to the moon in 1972, before that Project Orion was a study for a spacecraft powered by nuclear pulse propulsion in the 1950’s.  Actor Chris Noth named his son Orion Christopher.

PhoenixThe Phoenix was a robotic spacecraft on an exploratory mission to Mars  in 2008, searching for environments suitable for microbial life on Mars, and researching the history of water there—not to be confused with the Phoenix starship on Star Trek. Phoenix has been used as a baby name by Spice Girl Melanie Brown.

Prometheus — A project established by NASA in 2003 to develop nuclear-powered systems for long-duration space missions.  It was named for the wisest of the Titans in Greek mythology who gave the gift of fire to humanity, NASA saying that the name Prometheus indicated its hopes of expanding capabilities for the exploration of the Solar System.

Ulysses Ulysses is the first spacecraft to study the unexplored region of space above our Sun‘s poles.  It was stated that it was given the name because its mythical namesake, too, had ventured into unexplored territory.  Ex-SNLer Anna Gasteyer ventured into unexplored baby name territory when she named her son Ulysses.

In addition, of course, there are many names with meanings and associations to the moon itself, from Luna to Diana to Artemis.

Do you find any of these names inspiring?