JOHNSON SPACE CENTER, Houston, Nov. 17, 2008 -- Does the International Space Station really need a name? Isn't ISS enough?
Maybe. Maybe not. It once was known as Alpha. President Reagan wanted to name it Freedom, but that name didn't take.
Parts of the space station have names: Zarya, Kibo, Destiny, Harmony and Columbus, but the entire assembly is just the plain-old, clunky, wordy International Space Station.
The space shuttles all have names. Atlantis, Discovery, Endeavour.
The commanders and pilots who fly the orbiters describe each of them as having their own individual personality. When the Space Shuttle Columbia fell apart in 2003 the astronaut who was the pilot on its first mission recalled Columbia lovingly.
Bob Crippen told mourners Columbia was hardly a thing of beauty, but, he said, "Except to those of us who loved and cared for her. She was often bad mouthed for being a little heavy in the rear end, but many of us can relate to that. Many said she was old and past her prime. Still she had lived only barely a quarter of her design life. In years she was only 22. Columbia had many great missions ahead of her. She, along with the crew, had her life snuffed out while in her prime."
So would the International Space Station ever inspire that kind offeeling?
It is by all accounts, the most complicated engineering project ever conceived. It is the product of a collaborative agreement among 16 nations, at a cost of almost $100 billion.
Astronaut Scott Parazynski is convinced the space station is worth every dime. "This is the single most complex vehicle ever built by human beings and it is being built off the planet at 17, 500 miles an hour in [a] vacuum, with huge temperature extremes, pieces of hardware coming together for the very first time in space. They have never had fit checks or checkouts on Earth. It is remarkable."
The orbiting outpost will celebrate its 10th anniversary this week, and it may get a name as a birthday present. The space station has long had an identity crisis. It is after all, the space station. What does it do? Why does it exist?
Space Station Program Manager Mike Suffredini, in an interview last year, told ABC News he was well aware of the space station's identity crisis.
"It is unfortunate, as a world community, so many folks are not aware of the space station, but I am convinced that when we build the space station up and we are flying the six-person crew in orbit like we said we are going to do, it will be a more talked about system as we build it out."
The space telescopes all have names. Hubble is the most famous orbiting observatory and has a devoted following of people who proudly call themselves Hubble Huggers.
Think of the Mars Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity and images come to mind of spunky little robots succeeding against the odds. The Mars Phoenix Lander chirped to a large following until the day it died.
Would an orbiting outpost with a name be more popular? Dr. Neal Lane of the Baker Institute believes the space station will never enjoy the popularity of a Hubble telescope, but it is a vital test platform to learn how to live in space.
"If we are going to learn how to go to Mars we have to learn about how we as humans react to living on orbit for a long time," he said.
Lane says a space station, named or not, is still a worthy endeavor.
"Putting that together on orbit is just incredible, people have forgotten this is still a very risky business, and what is being assembled up there has never been done before," Lane said.
So what would be a good name for the space station? Good question -- and one NASA has been struggling with for years, and perhaps it will reveal its choice this week.