August 23, 2006

NASA Names New Moon Spaceships ‘Orion’

By Irene Klotz

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - The U.S. spaceships that NASA wants to build to carry astronauts back to the moon will be called Orion, an agency official said on Wednesday.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced the name about a week early after inadvertently airing on its public satellite television station a message recorded by a space station crew member for future use.

"We've been calling it the Crew Exploration Vehicle for several years, but today it has a name - Orion," station flight engineer Jeffrey Williams said in the message aired on Tuesday.

Orion was the hunter of Greek myth, whose constellation is one of the most easily recognized because of its bright belt of three stars. NASA also borrowed from Greek mythology to name its first fleet of lunar spacecraft, the Apollo series that carried the first humans to the moon in 1969.

The Orion name had previously surfaced on a Web site, along with a picture of the project's new logo. NASA had hoped to keep the name under wraps until it chose a contractor to build the vehicles. The announcement is expected on August 31.

Lockheed Martin is competing against partnership led by Northrop Grumman and Boeing to build capsules that can be flown on top of expendable rockets to the International Space Station and to the moon. Eventually, NASA hopes to parlay the technology into a craft capable of carrying people to and from Mars.

Test flights of the new capsules are expected to start as early as 2012, with the first mission to the moon scheduled for no later than 2020.