I came across this paper which, on page 9, says the following:

The guidance or “shooting” algorithm is based on the Linear Peturbation Theory (Battin) developed for the America’s Program for Orbiting Lunar and Landing Operations (APOLLO) program during the 1960s.

Now, I can't tell whether the APOLLO program referenced in this sentence is the Apollo program (the one that landed people on the moon in 1969-1972). Is this sentence referring to a different APOLLO program than the one I thought of when I saw the word Apollo? If not, was the name of the Apollo program really an acronym as indicated in the quoted sentence?

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    $\begingroup$ If that were the case, what were MERCURY & GEMINI acronyms for? $\endgroup$
    – Fred
    Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 6:27
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    $\begingroup$ That sounds like the kind of backronyms that you encounter in giant robot anime. $\endgroup$
    – ikrase
    Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 8:20
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ Wait! So,... the Saturn V actually was a giant samurai robot? It's all starting to make sense now! $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 12:23
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    $\begingroup$ Interestingly @uhoh, the BBC capitalise ESA, but not Nasa. It's how they throw shade. $\endgroup$
    – user20636
    Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 12:36
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    $\begingroup$ the BBC do say ee-sah @MichaelHarvey (but they do always say European Space Agency for the first mention, which they don't for Nasa) $\endgroup$
    – user20636
    Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 22:37

4 Answers 4


From a pre-launch press release for Apollo 11:

Among the many missions conceived at that time was a manned journey to the Moon and back. Dr. Silverstein himself named it "Apollo" after one of the most versatile of the Greek gods. Dr. Silverstein recalls he chose the name after perusing a book of mythology at home one evening, early in 1960. He thought that the image of "Apollo riding his chariot across the Sun was appropriate to the grand scale of the proposed program."

So named after the Greek god, and absolutely not an acronym.

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    $\begingroup$ also - when the project was named, they didn't even know if they were going to do direct, lunar orbit or earth orbit rendevous, so having "lunar orbit" in the name before they even knew the plan is silly $\endgroup$
    – NKCampbell
    Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 16:40
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    $\begingroup$ Apollo wasn’t even conceived specifically as a lunar landing project. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 16:50

There's currently a single Google1 hit for that phrase2, so I strongly suspect this is a backronym the author thought was clever.

It might be worth checking the reference given around this information "Battin, R. H., An Introduction to the Mathematics and Methods of Astrodynamics, American Insitute of Aeronautics and Astrodynamics,1987."3 -- although dronir noted in the comments that "Google books' search inside" doesn't find the phrase.

In the comments, T.E.D. pointed out that in technical documents acronyms tend to be defined the first time they are used, and various lists of acronyms exist, so there would be no be trouble whatsoever finding evidence if it were really an acronym.

Also, Austin Hemmelgarn pointed out that (especially in the Apollo ERA) acronyms were given in all-caps or small-caps, and goes on to say they weren't able to find all-caps APOLLO (except in contexts where all text would be in all-caps anyway, such as title pages and mission patches)

1 Other search engines are available
2 The hit was this question
3 Other booksellers are available

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    $\begingroup$ Adding to this, the only places I can find 'APOLLO' in all-caps that's actually from the project itself are the project insignia and the mission patches, but those use all-caps or small caps for everything on them, so they can't really be taken as evidence of it being an acronym. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 11:53
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    $\begingroup$ Google books' search inside that reference does not seem to contain any mention of that "acronym". $\endgroup$
    – Dronir
    Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ agreed it is a backronym. I've seen it on something fairly old but am away from home atm $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 15:52
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    $\begingroup$ FWIW, I've done a fair bit of military and some NASA contract work. If a word is an acronym, its required to define it once, and usually to put it in an appendix of acronyms, in any document dealing with it. So if it were really an acronym, I'm quite confident that we'd not be having any trouble whatsoever finding evidence. $\endgroup$
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 17:15
  • $\begingroup$ Now that it became HNQ, that Google query points to loads and loads of SE pages. I wonder what that lonely hit was... $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 14:59

Some early rocket programs:

  • Mercury
  • Gemini
  • Saturn
  • Apollo
  • Atlas
  • Thor
  • Juno
  • Athena
  • Jupiter

There's a definite naming pattern...

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    $\begingroup$ This doesn't really answer the question. Just because NASA uses a naming theme doesn't mean that they don't also acronym or backronym those names. That's commonly done at NASA now. $\endgroup$
    – Erin Anne
    Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 22:38
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    $\begingroup$ "Man's Greatest Space Achievements Attained Thanks to Johnson And Johnson" we're onto you Illuminati ! (humour) $\endgroup$
    – Criggie
    Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 0:52
  • $\begingroup$ It doesn't explicitly answer the question but it does strongly hint at it ... there aren't well known acronyms for all the others, even if you can invent plausible backronyms for one or two. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 29, 2020 at 11:46

Absolutely not

Origins of NASA Names, SP-4402, is the 242-page official NASA history of the names of launch vehicles, spacecraft, manned spaceflight programs, sounding rockets, and NASA field installations. The entry for Apollo is three pages long and makes no mention of it being an acronym. Notably:

Abe Silverstein, Director of Space Flight Development, proposed the name "Apollo" because it was the name of a god in ancient Greek mythology with attractive connotations and the precedent for naming manned spaceflight projects for mythological gods and heroes had been set with Mercury. Apollo was god of archery, prophecy, poetry, and music, and most significantly he was god of the sun. In his horse-drawn golden chariot, Apollo pulled the sun in its course across the sky each day. NASA approved the name and publicly announced "Project Apollo" at the July 28-29 conference.

Furthermore, Apollo does not appear in Appendix A of the Origins of NASA Names, which lists every abbreviation and acronym. It is therefore not an acronym.


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