We can all admit that NASA's new system for launching craft into space currently known as the Space Launching System, isn't very catchy. Now, there is a push to give this system a new name and has gained support from lawmakers who have written in the provisions that would order NASA to rename this system from a competition among schoolchildren.
If the legislation is passed, the bill would set policy for NASA and includes budget guidelines that would move funding from the agency's Earth science programs into other areas, primarily the Space Launch System, Orion crew capsule and robotic exploration of our solar system.
The bill was passed by the House Science Committee this past Thursday and now moves to the full House of Representatives for a vote. The Senate has not yet considered its own version of the NASA authorization act.
The bill contains language that directs NASA to "conduct a well-publicized competition among students in elementary and secondary schools to name the elements of the administration's exploration program."
The bill also includes language stating that NASA should give a name to the entire exploration program, including the SLS, Orion spacecraft and future missions with the bill directing the space agency to rename the SLS itself.
NASA announced Orion as the name of the crew transport capsule in 2006, when it was a part of the Constellation program aimed at returning astronauts to the moon. The Obama administration canceled the program that was behind schedule in 2010, and then refocused NASA on partnering with commercial space companies to carry astronauts to the International Space Station.
The Orion capsule, however, survived the cancellation and emerged as a component of NASA's new exploration program with the Space Launch System designed to one day ferry astronauts on a mission to Mars.
Propelled by a pair of solid rocket boosters, four space shuttle-era rocket engines and an upper state derived from the Delta 4 launcher, the first version of the SLS will stand 321 feet tall and will blast off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The SLS will produce 8.4 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, more than any launcher since the Soviet Union's ill-fated N1 moon rocket.
The first test flight of they system is scheduled for 2018, when it will dispatch an unscrewed Orion capsule on a 25-day mission to lunar orbit and back to Earth. Another flight around the moon with astronauts on board is set to follow this mission in 2021.