Posts Tagged space shuttle

How to name a spaceship

Milennium Falcon and Star DestroyersSo you’ve got a spaceship. You’re ready to go boldly where no one has gone before, or to let the computers figure it out while you hypersleep and wait for the facehuggers. Either way, your ship will need a name.

Naming ships has been an important tradition in in the maritime world since the first seafarers, and that tradition most likely continue with spacefaring vessels. Here are some spaceship naming tips.


Naval vessels are named after almost everything, so we’ll start here. Several sci-fi series, like Star Trek, believe the military naming tradition will carry over to future space fleets, which is why Starfleet ships carry the prefix “USS” and a hull number. Military names add some gravitas, and could possibly reference seagoing vessels from centuries past.

Naval ships are assigned specific types of names depending on their class. Obviously, these don’t all apply to spacecraft, but they give a good indication of how a name matches up with a ship’s purpose:

Aircraft Carriers: presidents, battles, famous navy ships

Battleships: states

Cruisers: cities

Destroyers and escort ships: Navy and Marine personnel

Submarines: fish and marine life (more recently, states and cities)

Amphibious Assault Ships: same as aircraft carriers

Destroyer/Submarine Tenders: national parks

Patrol Craft: numbers only

Transports: various


Choosing a name based on an Earth landmark will be a good way to remind you of home as you cross the galaxy. They are also a good may to circumvent national boundaries; mountains and rivers are more politically neutral than historical figures or events from a country that may be part of a unified world government in the future.


These are always a good bet, since, by definition, they describe how awesome your ship is. Adjectives are a favorite of the Royal Navy; examples include HMS Invincible, HMS Indomitable, and HMS Illustrious. One of my personal favorites is Intrepid, first used on a U.S. Navy ketch during the Barbary Wars, then on a World War II aircraft carrier, and eventually on a class of Star Trek ships. You don’t have to choose a name that begins with “I,” but there are plenty of good ones out there.


Naming a ship after an important person says a lot about the ship’s creators. A ship can embody the qualities of its namesake, or honor their remarkable achievements. That’s why so many American ships are named after presidents, especially ones that led the country through wars. On the other hand, Sea Shepherd (of Whale Wars fame) named their ships Steve Irwin and Bob Barker. Conceivably, a future nerd society could have ships named George Lucas and Isaac Asimov.


A ship name is the perfect place to slip some allusion into a sci-fi story. In the Alien series, several ships, including the Nostromo and Sulaco, have names that refer to Joseph Conrad. Appealing to nerds isn’t the only option; references to mythology are also a good way to give your ship a cool, original, name with some meaning. These names aren’t as obvious as Mount Everest or George Washington, which makes them a little more realistic and a little more interesting. In a spacefaring civilization, all the “good” names will get taken; shipwrights will have to get creative, and so will you.

For the sake of concision, these are just five of the many possible types of names. These five are the most popular types of ship names, but the possibilities are almost infinite. You can even combine two cool-sounding words like Millennium Falcon. Just try to think as an actual ship captain or owner: would you really want a certain name if the ship was real?

Remember that, no matter what a ship’s name is, tradition dictates that it is female. Even if your ship’s name is the Sean Connery, you should refer to it as a “she.” They may just be machines, but ships have always had a romantic quality. That’s why naming them is so important.

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Science fiction future

USS EnterpriseScience fiction is pretty depressing. At least, that’s what Glenn Harlan Reynolds said in a piece for Popular Mechanics. In his view current sci-fi, characterized by writers like Neal Stephenson, is too dystopian. Reynolds wants a renaissance of the upbeat sci-fi of the ‘50s and ‘60s, where science solved problems instead of causing them. I couldn’t agree more: today’s sci-fi is decidedly negative, which is odd, given how much we rely on technology.

We live in the Digital Age. Our smart phones, computers, and tablets were science fiction a generation ago, and now they are like appendages. They give us access to people and knowledge that we never had before, yet they don’t seem to be the path to a utopian future. In the near-future America of Stephenson’s Snow Crash, computers are used to spread a neurolinguistic virus. In contrast, it’s hard to think of a sci-fi story about a hero who saves humanity by tweeting.

The kinds of technology depicted in each sci-fi story may have something to do with this dissonance. Star Trek is the most optimistic of classic sci-fi series; it’s about a future where war, hunger, and sickness are virtually eradicated with science. Does your iPad feed you? Is it as much of a technological achievement as the USS Enterprise?

We are constantly being told that the Internet represents a revolution in human communication, but perhaps the people that harness it are thinking too small. NASA is being marginalized while brilliant young minds slavishly court “angel investors,” looking for cash for the next app or website. Shouldn’t they be looking to the stars?

As for the sci-fi writers, they should take the leadership position they used to have. Science fiction used to chart the course for actual science, but not anymore. Dystopian stories that comment on the potential ramifications of our behavior are vital, but in addition to describing the problem, someone needs to describe the answer. Writers in the ‘50s and ‘60s could have exclusively written stories about nuclear war, but they didn’t. They tried to look on the bright side.

That is becoming harder and harder to do. The negative impact of our tech-driven lifestyle is painfully obvious. Building our devices harms the environment and ruins people’s lives. It also makes us more lethargic and less willing to connect with that boring, tactile realm known as “reality.”

People can sense that there is something wrong; if they didn’t, writers wouldn’t create so many negative works, and people wouldn’t buy them. That says a lot about us, as all good literature should.

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Fifty years after John Glenn’s flight, how far have we come?

Friendship 7Fifty years ago Monday, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. His flight was the product of Cold War paranoia, a “Space Race” that was part scientific endeavor, part arms race, and part national ego trip. Who would have thought that, 50 years later, the flight of Friendship 7 would be viewed as a quaint historical episode?

In 2012, the Cold War is long over and the Space Race has been nicely compartmentalized within it. In some ways, the American space program is worse off than it was in the early ‘60s: since the retirement of the Space Shuttle, Americans have been hitching rides on Russian spacecraft. How’s that for irony?

When my high school history class finally got to the 1960s, the teacher decided to skip over the Space Race because, he claimed, it had no greater relevance. It is easy to see his point: space exploration sprung out of the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union, and didn’t really develop after the two sides resolved their differences. Now, the Cold War seems almost nostalgic in an era of terrorism and globalization.

Nonetheless, space could still be an important part of American policy, if people were willing to invest the time and money that they did in the ‘60s. The Mercury and Apollo programs were triumphs of public-private partnership: the government provided the cash and oversight, private contractors provided the tools and skills. NASA told McDonnell that they needed a capsule for John Glenn and the other astronauts to ride; McDonnell built Friendship 7.

Wouldn’t a project like that be valuable today? The space program created jobs and made America a world leader in science, two things the U.S. needs to happen again. Project Mercury showed what can happen when everyone, government officials and private contractors, liberals and conservatives, work together in a single, national, effort.

Instead of bickering about how money is spent or complaining that one’s rights are being infringed upon every time we don’t like a new law, Americans need to focus on the bigger picture. Everyone looked up when John Glenn took off 50 years ago; who will replace him?

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America needs a new spaceship

It’s been one week since the Space Shuttle Atlantis lifted off for the final time, and I still have not gotten over it. Some people were glad to see the Shuttle go; they say that making it America’s only space vehicle limited space exploration to the crafts’ range and payload capacity. But they’re missing the point. America’s space program has always been about showing what the nation can do when it needs to prove to other nations that it is better than them.

When we got to the 1960s in high school history, the teacher said he was not going to teach the Space Race because it did not have a long-term impact. He was right: NASA was born of Cold War desperation. The Soviets had launched Sputnik and the United States needed to do something to keep from falling behind technologically. Americans were afraid the Commies would use their mastery of space to train scientists and develop technologies that could render the West uncompetitive, or unleash a hellish rain of nuclear projectiles.

Cold War paranoia drove the Space Race, encouraging the government to fund research, build bigger rockets, and ultimately send humans to the Moon. Now that the Cold War has been over for almost two decades, it is difficult to understand why we bothered. Space exploration has yielded few tangible benefits besides bragging rights and memory foam. Given that, and the fact that an iPod Nano probably has more computing power than an Apollo Command Module, it is easy to see why so many people don’t believe we were ever on the Moon.

Without the Cold War, NASA seems like an expensive luxury, something Republican Congressmen would scoff at. Most people don’t pay attention to Shuttle launches, but the few who see them in person say it is an unbelievable experience. Science may be important, but that awesomeness is still an important part of why the United States sends people into space.

Astronauts and NASA boosters get dewy-eyed about pushing the limits of human endurance and knowledge, and this has something to do with that. The Space Shuttle and NASA’s other manned missions have pushed human limits but, more importantly, they did it in full view of the American public and other nations. They showed that America could build the most complicated machine in history, and routinely blast men and women into orbit with it. The space program shows that the U.S., government and citizens, can accomplish difficult tasks many thought impossible, even if they have no bearing on the daily lives of the average person.

That propaganda role may seem unnecessary in the post-Cold War world; radical Islamist terrorists don’t care about how many rockets we have. However, with China poised to overtake the U.S. in the all-important economic category of buying stuff, and anxiety over the debt ceiling, there is no better time for an expensive, complicated (possibly job creating) technological exercise. It’s time to stop pointing out the reasons why America can’t do things so we can start doing things.

The Space Shuttle’s time may have come, but it is still a sad moment. It’s sad because the Shuttle will not be replaced with something better; that it won’t be replaced at all. The United States will not have a vehicle to take astronauts into space; we have essentially stepped backwards. To maintain our national pride, America needs a new spaceship. Call me when the Enterprise is ready.

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