Looking Up: A Moon Mission Is Born. But What To Name It?

Jul 8, 2019

Photo of watercolor mural study for Apollo by Louis Grell.
Credit public domain / wikimedia.org / creative commons

This week on Looking Up our month long tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Apollo missions continues with Bruce providing insight on how the program came to be named.

In July 1960 NASA was preparing to implement its long-range plan beyond Project Mercury and to introduce a manned circumlunar mission project, unnamed at that time, at the NASA/Industry Program Plans Conference in Washington DC.

NASA had established the precedent for naming manned spaceflight projects for mythological gods and heroes already with Project Mercury.

The Greek god Apollo was associated with 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. Apollo also was associated with dominion over colonists. He was the leader of the Muses and was director of their choir – functioning as the patron god of music and poetry.

Abe Silverstein, Director of Space Flight Development, proposed the name "Apollo". Abe later said that "I was naming the spacecraft like I'd name my baby." Silverstein chose the name at home one evening, early in 1960, because he felt "Apollo riding his chariot across the Sun was appropriate to the grand scale of the proposed program."

NASA approved the name and publicly announced "Project Apollo" at that conference.

If you’d like to take a closer look at the Apollo program, or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit csastro.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties.