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?