NASA's Embarrassing Name Game

News media pounces on transmission mistake

Who leaked the new name of the spaceship NASA plans to fly to the moon by 2020? It wasn't Jeffrey Williams, a flight engineer living aboard the International Space Station. Sure, Williams taped a video message in which he held up a model of the spacecraft. "We've been calling it the crew exploration vehicle for several years, but today it has a name…Orion," he said.

However, Williams was just following the instructions of his PR handlers on the ground. His message wasn't supposed to air until next week, when NASA had planned to announce the new name along with a decision about who will build the spaceship. Lockheed Martin is vying with a consortium of Northrop Grumman and Boeing contractors for the project.

The plan was to transmit Williams' message from the space station to the ground on a private channel, and record it for later distribution. Instead the NASA public affairs office transmitted the message on an open channel, where it was intercepted by the Associated Press. After the cat was out of the bag, NASA issued an official press release "announcing" the new name. In typical fashion, NASA made no mention of what really happened.

The Orion name isn't news to everyone. The website collectspace.com reported the new name last month after discovering Orion in a search of federal trademarks. Although NASA still hasn't unveiled the Orion logo, collectspace.com reports that a logo with that name has been marked "approved" in NASA internal documents. —Dawn Stover

Link via collectspace.com