This is something I've wondered about quite frequently. Is there really any common naming procedure used to name spacecraft? It seems that some spacecraft are named after greek and roman gods, such as:

just to name a few. However, most of the names NASA gives to their spacecraft seem all over the place. Some are named for their mission, others are named in honor of certain people, and others 1are just plain weird.

This lead me to wonder, if there is any set naming convention for naming spacecraft, or is each one just named at random and "on the fly"?

1Just start reading each paragraph near the ends. Each one list the names of the command module/service module, and lunar module....


2 Answers 2


1Special thanks to @David, for the great link he provided.

Seeing that this question has garnered some interest, And nobody has answered yet, I guess I'll take a crack at it.

After reading over the paper mentioned above, and researching other 2sources I decided I'd just compile a selected list of rocket and satellite name origins. This list is by no means complete, and feel free to add on if you know a certain spacecraft's name origin. I should mention that the paper above provides more than just rocket and satellite name origins, and I highly recommend reading it for yourself. With that in mind:


  • Agena: The Agena rocket is an upper stage that has its origins with the Lockheed Missiles & Space Company. The name "Agena" was proposed for the star Agena in the constellation Centaurus, because of the fact the Agena was an upper stage rocket, igniting in the sky.

  • Atlas: The Atlas rocket was a powerful first stage, used in various applications. In the early '50's, Karel J. Bossart, head of the design team at Convair (Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation), Decied to ask his staff for name ideas for the then new Atlas rocket. In the end "Atlas" was chosen because the missile they were designing at Covair was going to be the biggest of any missile to date. Bossart named it for the Atlas, who, in Greek mythology, is a powerful God that holds up the earth.

  • Little Joe: The Little Joe rocket was a inexpensive rocket for testing the escape sequence of the Mercuy spacecraft. The rocket earned its name, because of its engine being drawn with four holes up, which resembled a "double deuce" throw, in Craps. The that type of throw is sometimes referred to as a "Little Joe".

  • Shotput: The Shotput rocket was a rocket specifically made for testing balloon-satellite ejection and inflation in space. It carried the Echo satellite payload. It gained its name from the fact that it "tossed" the Echo sphere above earth's atmosphere, in a vertical trajectory.

  • Saturn V: The Saturn V(Saturn Five) rocket, was the rocket used to place the Apollo vehicles in Lunar Orbit, as well as launch the Skylab projects into Low Earth Orbit. Nominations were submitted to NASA for the name final name for the Saturn V. The front runner for some time was "Krons", until the Committee suggested-Through the Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs George L. Simpson, Jr- The name "Saturn V". And Saturn V was chosen.

  • Redstone: The Redstone rocket has its origins as a battlefield missile developed by the U.S. Army. NASA went on to modify it and use it for launching sub-orbital Mercury flights. After having several Nicknames, the booster was officially named "Redstone" due to its development taking place in the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama.

  • Able: Since this name explanation was brief, I thought it might be best to directly cite the 1paper:

    The Able upper stage was one of several derived in 1958 by the Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency, Douglas Aircraft Company, and Space Technology Laboratories from Vanguard launch vehicle components. It was used with Thor or Atlas first stages. The name signified "A" or "first" (from military phonetic communications practice of stipulating key words beginning with each letter of the alphabet)...


  • Sphinx: The Sphinx Satellite was planned to be one of the smallest NASA satellites-Weighing in at just 113 Kilograms(249.122). It gained its name from a experiment acronym-"Space Plasma High Voltage Interaction Experiment."

  • Pegasus: The Pegasus spacecraft's most striking feature, is its impressive 96 meters wing span. In terms of satellites, is was the heaviest satellite to date. Thus being consider a "horse" sized payload. due to its massive wing span, and unprecedented size, the name "Pegasus" was chosen for the mythological winged horse.

  • Nimbus: The Nimbus satellite was named for the term "Nimbus" in meteorology meaning "precipitating cloud. Its name was Suggested by Edgar M. Courtright, Chief of NASA's Advance Technology Program.

  • Explorer 1: The "Explorer" name has its origins even before the birth NASA. before NASA was established, the name was used for US military weather balloons. Wilbur M. Brucker-secretary of the Army-announced the name. Its name reflected its mission, and the mark of the first US satellite.

  • Echo: Echo-an inflatable satellite, conceived by William J. O'Sullivan-gained its name from its mission- to be used as a reflector for radio signals. In radio terms, echo" is often used to describe the deflection of radio signals from earth to to an orbiting balloon. The satellite was thus named "Echo"


Note to contributors:

If anyone does deiced to add on to my answer, please make sure it's posted under the correct category. if a category does not exist, feel free to create a new one.


This day and age they often ask public opinion about what they intend to name their spacecraft. The space Shuttles were named after famous vessels of early exploration NASA still uses a similar protocol, although the organization made a few additions in 2000 that specify that mission names should be easy to pronounce and mostly avoid acronyms. These days, it’s up to whoever's in charge of that particular NASA unit to decide whether a name is appropriate or not.

The last four rovers to explore the Red Planet were all named by students who submitted entries to essay contests.

But back in the 60's; Originally known as the Ad-Hoc Committee to Name Space Projects and Objects, the committee was tasked with developing NASA's first naming protocol for all spacecraft, probes and missions. The protocol includes rules like the following: Each project name will be a simple euphonic word that will not duplicate or be confused with other NASA or non-NASA project titles.

  • $\begingroup$ References/links? $\endgroup$ May 26, 2020 at 11:55
  • $\begingroup$ The Shuttle Endeavour was named in a contest by schoolchildren. One of the nbcnews.com/id/wbna42787437 $\endgroup$
    – DMPalmer
    Nov 19, 2020 at 2:46
  • $\begingroup$ One of the contest rules was that the name had to have at least three syllables, which they claimed was for clarity in radio transmissions. Everybody knew that this was to prevent it from being called "Beagle". At the time Creationism was big in the Republican party, like global warming denial and calling coronavirus a hoax is today. (Also, they didn't want 'The Beagle has landed" jokes.) $\endgroup$
    – DMPalmer
    Nov 19, 2020 at 2:56

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