SP-4402 Origins of NASA Names

 

SECTION III

SPACE PROBES

 


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Whirlpool-shaped galaxy.

Whirlpool-shaped galaxy.

 

[83] Unmanned instrumented probes obtain scientific information about the moon, other planets, and the space environment. Probes are differentiated from sounding rockets in that they attain at least 6400-kilometer altitudes. When a probe is launched on an escape trajectory-attaining sufficient velocity to travel beyond the earth's gravitational field-it becomes, in effect, a satellite of the sun. The Lunar Orbiter probes, however, were sent into orbit around the earth's natural satellite, the moon.

First serious consideration of the concept of a space probe can be attributed to Dr. Robert H. Goddard, American rocket pioneer. As early as 1916, Goddard's calculations of his theoretical rocket and his experiments with flash powders led him to conclude that a rocket-borne payload exploding on the moon could be detected from earth.1 On 20 September 1952 a paper entitled "The Martian Probe," presented by E. Burgess and C. A. Cross to the British Interplanetary Society, gave the term "probe" to the language. 2

In May 1960-at the suggestion of Edgar M. Cortright, Assistant Director of Lunar and Planetary Programs-NASA adopted a system of naming its space probes. Names of lunar probes were patterned after land exploration activities (the name "Pioneer," designating the early series of lunar and related space probes, was already in use). The names of planetary mission probes were patterned after nautical terms, to convey "the impression of travel to great distances and remote lands." Isolated missions to investigate the space environment were "assigned the name of the mission group of which they are most nearly a part."3 This 1960 decision was the basis for naming Mariner, Ranger, Surveyor, and Viking probes.

 


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U.S.-German Helios 1 solar probe on the spin table for system test and checkout before mating to the Titan III launch vehicle

U.S.-German Helios 1 solar probe on the spin table for system test and checkout before mating to the Titan III launch vehicle.

 

HELIOS. In June 1969 NASA and the German Ministry for Scientific Research (BMwF) agreed to a joint project for launching two probes, in 1974 and 1975, to study the interplanetary medium and explore the near-solar region. The probes would carry instruments closer to the sun than any previous spacecraft, approaching to within 45 million kilometers.1

The project was designated "Helios," the name of the ancient Greek god of the sun, by German Minister Karl Kaesmeier. The name had been suggested in a telephone conversation between Minister Kaesmeier and Goddard Space Flight Center's Project Manager, Gilbert W. Ousley, in August 1968.2 NASA had previously used the name for the Advanced Orbiting Solar Observatory (AOSO), canceled in 1965, which was to have performed similar experiments.3 The Helios probes were to be launched on Titan III-Centaur vehicles.

NASA launched West German-built Helios I into orbit of the sun 10 December 1974. Helios-B was scheduled for 1976 launch.

 

LUNAR ORBITER. The name "Lunar Orbiter" was a literal description of the mission assigned to each probe in that project: to attain lunar orbit, whence it would acquire photographic and scientific data about the moon. Lunar Orbiter supplemented the Ranger and Surveyor probe projects, providing [85] lunar data in preparation for the Apollo manned landings and the Surveyor spacecraft softlandings.1

The name evolved informally through general use. NASA had had under consideration plans for a Surveyor spacecraft to be placed in orbit around the moon. This Surveyor was called "Surveyor Orbiter" to distinguish it from those in the lunar-landing series. When the decision was made to build a separate spacecraft rather than use Surveyor, the new probe was referred to simply as " Orbiter" or "Lunar Orbiter."2

Five Lunar Orbiter flights launched in 1966 and 1967 made more than 6000 orbits of the moon and photographed more than 99% of the lunar surface, providing scientific data and information for selecting the Apollo manned landing sites. Tracking data increased knowledge of the moon's gravitational field and revealed the presence of the lunar mascons.3

 


Scale models of a Lunar Orbiter spacecraft and the moon in top photo demonstrate the approach to within 48 kilometers of the lunar surface

 

Scale models of a Lunar Orbiter spacecraft and the moon in top photo demonstrate the approach to within 48 kilometers of the lunar surface. Below, a portion of the first closeup of the lunar crater Copernicus, taken 23 November 1966 by Lunar Orbiter 2.

 

Below, a portion of the first closeup of the lunar crater Copernicus, taken 23 November 1966 by Lunar Orbiter 2.



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Mariner 9 soacecraft with thermal blanket covering the retro engine

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Mariner 10 photographed the densely cratered surface of Mercury on 29 March 1974, at 18 200 kilometers from the planet

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Nix Olympica gigantic volcanic mountain on Mars, photographed by Mariner 9 in January 1972

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Mariner 9 spacecraft with thermal blanket covering the retro engine at top. Nix Olympica gigantic volcanic mountain on Mars, photographed by Mariner 9 in January 1972, above [right]. Mariner 10 photographed the densely cratered surface of Mercury on 29 March 1974, at 18 200 kilometers from the planet.

 

[87] MARINER. The space probes to investigate the vicinities of the earth's planetary neighbors, Venus and Mars, and eventually Mercury, Jupiter, and Saturn, were designated the "Mariner" series. The name was adopted in May 1960 as part of the Cortright system of naming planetary missions from nautical terms.1

Mariner spacecraft made a number of record-setting missions, from the early years of the project. On 14 December 1962 NASA's Mariner 2 came within 34 900 kilometers of Venus, climaxing a four-month space flight that provided new scientific data on interplanetary space and Venus. On 14 July 1965, after seven months of interplanetary flight, Mariner 4 took the first close look at Mars from outside the earth's atmosphere, returning high quality photographs and scientific data.

On 19 October 1967 Mariner 5 flew within 4000 kilometers of Venus, obtaining additional information on the nature and origin of the planet and on the interplanetary environment during a period of increased solar activity. During 1969, Mariner 6 and 7 continued the investigation of the Martian atmosphere, flying within 3500 kilometers of the planet. Following the unsuccessful Mariner 8 launch attempt,* Mariner 9 was launched 30 May 1971 and put into orbit around Mars on 13 November 1971-the first man-made object to orbit another planet. Mariner 9 photographed the moons of Mars, mapped 100 percent of the planet, and returned data proving it was geologically and meteorologically alive.

Mariner 10, launched 3 November 1973, flew past Venus in February 1974 to a March 1974 encounter with Mercury, for the first exploration of that planet. The spacecraft's trajectory around the sun swung it back for a second encounter with Mercury in September 1974 and would return it for a third in March 1975. Venus data gave clues to the planet's weather system, suggested the planet's origin differed from the earth's, and confirmed the presence of hydrogen in its atmosphere. Mercury data revealed a strong magnetic field, a tenuous atmosphere rich in helium, a cratered crust, and possibly an iron-rich core; it brought new insight into the formation of the terrestrial planets.

Two Mariner Jupiter-Saturn probes were planned for launch in 1977 to study the environment, atmosphere, and characteristics of those planets.2

 


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Pioneer 11 spacecraft during checkout with a mockup of the launch vehicle's third stage, before launch.

Pioneer 11 spacecraft during checkout with a mockup of the launch vehicle's third stage, before launch.

 

PIONEER. "Pioneer" was chosen as the name for the first U.S. space probe, Pioneer 1, launched 11 October 1958, as well as for the following series of lunar and deep space probes. The Pioneer series had been initiated for the International Geophysical Year by the Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), which assigned execution variously to the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division (AFBMD) and to the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA). Upon its formation in October 1958, NASA inherited responsibility for-and the name of-the probes.1

Credit for naming the first probe has been attributed to Stephen A. Saliga, who had been assigned to the Air Force Orientation Group, Wright-Patterson AFB, as chief designer of Air Force exhibits. While he was at a briefing, the spacecraft was described to him as a "lunar-orbiting vehicle with an infrared scanning device." Saliga thought the title too long and lacked theme for an exhibit design. He suggested "Pioneer" as the name of....

 


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Jupiter's red spot and a shadow of the moon Io with the planet's cloud structure were photographed by Pioneer 10 on 1 December 1973.

Jupiter's red spot and a shadow of the moon Io with the planet's cloud structure were photographed by Pioneer 10 on 1 December 1973.

 

....the probe since "the Army had already launched and orbited the Explorer satellite and their Public Information Office was identifying the Army as 'Pioneers in Space,'" and by adopting the name the Air Force would "make a 'quantum jump' as to who really [were] the 'Pioneers in space.'"2

The first series of Pioneer spacecraft was flown between 1958 and 1960. Pioneer 1, 2, and 5 were developed by Space Technology Laboratories, Inc., and were launched for NASA by AFBMD. Pioneer 3 and 4 were developed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and launched for NASA by ABMA. In 1960 Pioneer transmitted the first solar flare data and established a communications distance record of 36.2 million kilometers.

With the launch of Pioneer 6 (Pioneer A in the new series) in December 1965, NASA resumed the probes to complement interplanetary data acquired by Mariner probes. Pioneer 7, 8, and 9, second-generation spacecraft [90] launched between 1966 and 1968, continued the investigation of the interplanetary medium.

Between 1965 and 1967 NASA had been studying the concept for a space probe known as the "Galactic Jupiter Probe," or "Advanced Planetary Probe," that would investigate solar, interplanetary, and galactic phenomena in the outer region of the solar system.3 By 1968 NASA had included the probe in the Pioneer series, designating two such probes Pioneer F and G.4

Pioneer 10 (Pioneer F), launched in March 1972, became the first spacecraft to cross the Asteroid Belt. It flew by Jupiter in December 1973, returning more than 300 closeup photos of the planet and its inner moons as well as data on its complex magnetic field and its atmosphere. Accelerated by Jupiter's gravity, the probe was to reach the orbit of Saturn in 1976 and the orbit of Uranus in 1979; it was expected to become in 1987 the first spacecraft to escape the solar system.

Pioneer 11 (Pioneer G), launched in April 1973, crossed the Asteroid Belt, skimmed by Jupiter three times closer to the planet than Pioneer 10 had, and was thrown by Jupiter's gravity toward Saturn. The spacecraft sent back the first photos of Jupiter's poles and information on the atmosphere, the equator regions, and the moon Callisto. On the night of 2 December 1974, when Pioneer 11 set its new course for Saturn, NASA renamed the probe Pioneer Saturn. 5 It was to pass close by Saturn in the fall of 1979.

Two Pioneer Venus spacecraft, an orbiter and a multiprobe lander, were to gather detailed information on the atmosphere and clouds of Venus in 1978 . The lander was to release four probes to the planet's surface.6

 

RANGER. A probe series to gather data about the moon, Ranger was assigned its name in May 1960 because of the parallel to "land exploration activities."1 NASA had initiated Project Ranger-then unnamed-in December 1959, when it requested Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to study spacecraft design and a mission to "acquire and transmit a number of images of the lunar surface."2 In February 1960 Dr. William H. Pickering, JPL Director, recommended that NASA Headquarters approve the name "Ranger" used by JPL for the project. The name had been introduced by the JPL program director, Clifford D. Cummings, who had noticed while on a camping trip that his pick-up truck was called "Ranger." Cummings liked the name and, because it referred to "land exploration activities," suggested it as a name for the lunar impact probe. By May 1960 it was in common use.3

 


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Ranger 7 before 28 July 1964 launch to the Moon

Ranger 7 before 28 July 1964 launch to the Moon, at left. The television picture of craters on the lunar surface was taken by Ranger 9 before impact 24 March 1965.

The television picture of craters on the lunar surface was taken by Ranger 9 before impact 24 March 1965.

 

The first U.S. spacecraft to hit the moon was Ranger 4, launched 23 April 1962. Ranger 7, 8, and 9 flown 1964-1965, provided thousands of close-up photographs of the moon before crashing on its surface. They were the first of the unmanned space probes- Surveyor and Lunar Orbiter were later ones- to provide vital planning information about the lunar surface for the Apollo manned lunar landing program.

 


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The Surveyor spacecraft, designed to make a softlanding on the moon.

 

Surveyor 5's alpha-backscattering instrument, in the lower photo, analyzed chemical composition of the lunar surface after the 10 September 1967 landing

The Surveyor spacecraft, designed to make a softlanding on the moon. Surveyor 5's alpha-backscattering instrument, in the lower photo, analyzed chemical composition of the lunar surface after the 10 September 1967 landing.

 

[93] SURVEYOR. "Surveyor" was chosen in May 1960 to designate an advanced spacecraft series to explore and analyze the moon's surface. The designation was in keeping with the policy of naming lunar probes after "land exploration activities" established under the Cortright system of naming space probes.1 Following the Ranger photographic lunar hardlanders, Surveyor probes marked an important advance in space technology: a softlanding on the moon's surface to survey it with television cameras and analyze its characteristics using scientific instruments.

Five Surveyor spacecraft-Surveyor I in 1966; Surveyor 3, 5, and 6 in 1967; and Surveyor 7 in 1968-softlanded on the moon and operated on the lunar surface over a combined time of approximately 17 months. They transmitted more than 87 000 photographs and made chemical and mechanical analyses of surface and subsurface samples.2

 


Viking spacecraft model in simulated flight.

Viking spacecraft model in simulated flight.

 

VIKING. The name "Viking" designated the planned first U.S. softlanding probes of the planet Mars.** The successor to Project Voyager, which was....

 


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An artist's conception of the Viking Mars lander nearing touchdown on the Martian surface at Chryse.

An artist's conception of the Viking Mars lander nearing touchdown on the Martian surface at Chryse. The parachute in the left background carries the aeroshell from which the lander detaches.

 

....canceled in 1968, the Viking program was to send two unmanned spacecraft-each consisting of an orbiter and lander-to make detailed scientific measurements of the Martian surface, and search for indications of life forms.*** The two Viking spacecraft, planned for launch in 1975 on Titan III-Centaur launch vehicles, were to reach Mars in 1976.

The name had been suggested by Walter Jacobowski in the Planetary Programs Office at NASA Headquarters and discussed at a management review held at Langley Research Center in November 1968.1 It was the consensus at the meeting that "Viking" was a suitable name in that it reflected the spirit of nautical exploration in the same manner as "Mariner," according to the Cortright system of naming space probes.2 The name was subsequently sent to the NASA Project Designation Committee and approved.

 


* Mariner H was designated Mariner 8 by NASA Associate Administrator John E. Naugle because of pressure from the press for easier identification. This designation was a departure from past precedent of assigning a number to spacecraft only after a successful launch. (NASA, Mariner Mars 1971 Project Office, telephone interview, 4 June 1971).

** Viking has been previously used in the U.S. as the name for the early single-stage sounding rocket that later became the prototype for the first stage of the Vanguard launch vehicle. See Milton W. Rosen, The Viking Rocket Story (London: Faber and Faber, 1956) and Constance McL. Green and Milton Lomask, Vanguard-A History, NASA SP-4202 (Washington: NASA, 1970).

*** Project Voyager was terminated because of the projected high cost of the program ($2.4 billion), which was related to the planned use of Saturn V launch vehicles.


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