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16 Names NASA Considered For The 1980s Space Station That Never Was

Illustration for article titled 16 Names NASA Considered For The 1980s Space Station That Never Was

During his 1984 State of the Union speech, President Reagan announced that the U.S. would build a new permanently manned space station within a decade. The Space Shuttle program was underway, and a permanent space station seemed like the next logical step in our bold push into the final frontier. It didn't hurt that the Russians were already working on Mir, and America didn't want to look like it was resting on its laurels.


By 1988 (two years after the launch of Mir), the American space station project had progressed to the point that it came time to name it. NASA came up with sixteen possibilities, including everything from Olympia to Pilgrim, and presented President Reagan with the options along with different explanations for each one.

David S. F. Portree over at Wired's very excellent Beyond Apollo blog has dug up the sixteen names that NASA considered. As Portree writes, the Space Station Name Committee appointed by Reagan laid out the specific rules for naming it:

The naming rules were straightforward. Candidate names were to be simple and easily pronounced, not refer to living persons, neither duplicate nor closely resemble NASA or non-NASA space program names, be translatable into the languages of the International Partners, and have neither ambiguous nor offensive meanings in the International Partner languages. In addition, acronyms were to be avoided. The naming process was not to be revealed to the public; if, however, members of the public happened to submit names, the Name Committee would consider them.


With that many rules, the names all fell into just a handful of categories, including gods and goddesses, some astronomical wordplay, and lots of freedom-loving ideological buzzwords. The list is below.

  • Hercules
  • Minerva
  • Aurora
  • Jupiter
  • Pegasus
  • Olympia
  • Earth-Star
  • Starlight
  • Landmark
  • Pilgrim
  • Prospector
  • Skybase
  • Independence
  • Liberty
  • Unity
  • Freedom

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Reagan chose the name Space Station Freedom in July of 1988. Freedom, as we all know, isn't free, and the project ran into some funding difficulties in the early 1990s. By 1993 the Clinton administration re-evaluated the space station plan and the project was folded into what would become known as the International Space Station; a worthy and inclusive name indeed—albeit nowhere near as fun as Pegasus. [Beyond Apollo]

Image: 1991 rendering of Space Station Freedom by artist Tom Buzbee

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America's first space station that never was was the Manned Orbiting Laboratory. Sold to the public as a science station during the Johnson administration, it was in fact a manned surveillance platform. Early spy satellites returned whole reels full of pictures of clouds; they wanted a man behind the viewfinder to aim the camera at something interesting. We flew a couple of non-functional prototypes, but satellite technology caught up so we never built the real thing. The Soviets, on the other hand, built and flew three similar spy stations (one failure, one partial success, one full success with two crew missions). Almaz accommodated a crew of two and was armed with a rapid-fire cannon!

Manned Orbiting Laboratory (never flown)

Almaz (three built, one fully successful)