The first "naming committee" established within NASA Headquarters was the Ad Hoc Committee to Name Space Projects and Objects. Meeting informally during 1960, the Committee sought to establish procedures for submitting and selecting names and proposed specific mission categories as a step toward defining a clear-cut pattern of NASA names. Precedent had been set for the continuation of a "series approach" to names by Explorer and Pioneer spacecraft. The Committee emphasized that flight names should be suggestive of the mission and reflect the series of which they were a part. This emphasis was the basis for the decision to use the "Cortright" system for naming space probes, as described in the introductory section on space probes in the text (Part III).
On 9 January 1961, NASA Management Instruction 4-3-1, by the Committee, prescribed policy and procedure for assigning names to major NASA projects. A new committee, the Project Designation Committee, would be appointed to review and recommend specific project names. The NMI stated in part:
The Project Designation Committee met to consider specific names and solicited suggestions from NASA field centers as categories for future mission names were defined. Names chosen were "reserved" fore the appropriate missions. The committee recommendations were not always approved and the selection of a name for a particular mission occasionally was postponed for lack of an acceptable substitute. Many approved names were never used, as the projects themselves were redesigned or later canceled.
The influence of the committee waned after 1963 as some projects were deferred or canceled and ongoing series required no new names. Fewer new projects were approved and recommendation and approval of project names often came after the fact; names already in common use by program offices were adopted. Revived in 1970, the committee meets only to consider specific requests for official project names.