While it may be an essential part of NASA’s future space exploration plans, the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway needs a better name. (credit: NASA)
by Bob Mahoney
Recent reports suggest that NASA and its advisory groups are struggling to formulate an effective, to-the-point sales pitch for the next big thing, the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G). Is this any wonder when the program/project/spacecraft itself has been saddled with the name LOP-G? Just seeing this acronym in print instantly brings to mind “flop”, “limping”, “lop-sided”, and who knows what else. Ugh.
While some dispute is undeniably floating about regarding the value or utility of having this vehicle as part of NASA’s exploration plans (and, for the record, I embrace the original premise of this concept of a stepping stone for further exploration, dating back to NASA’s Decadal Planning Team efforts from nearly 20 years ago) I’d like to put that discussion aside for now to focus on just its name. I am a firm believer in the power of words and know that when you get the words (and name) right then success often follows: Mustang; Lunar Module; Star Wars; iPhone. Remember the inspirational power of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo? Even the utilitarian ring of Skylab and Shuttle fit well the core premises of the programs they described.
But when you get the words (and name) wrong, well… Remember the Edsel? The Hookless Fastener, which only took off after it was renamed the zipper? John Carter? The Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV)?
To have any chance of fulfilling its promise as a fulcrum that supports exploration and development of our entire solar system, this program desperately needs a better name. The name must fit its purpose, it should make you feel good when you say it, and it should easily roll off the tongue. Let me suggest one—and I hope it is merely one of many suggestions (see below)—that might fit the bill:
Solar System Access Station–Cislunar, or SSAS–Cislunar (or SSAS–CL)
What it says is what it is: being functionally simple it sings of an elegant essence, namely an enabling means to repeatedly reach (and/or return from) other places. SSAS inevitably makes one think of sassy, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s also easy to say: alliteration rarely hurts. Plus, attaching “Cislunar” to the base acronym builds into the name the legitimate potential for future SSASes located where they (perhaps) make technical sense (e.g., SSAS-Ganymede, SSAS-Deimos, SSAS-ESL2, etc.)
While SSAS-Luna might fly too, such a label may imply a false restriction on the station’s functionality; it is not meant to exclusively serve lunar missions and operations. This, by the way, is the opposite problem for the otherwise lyrical Deep Space Gateway moniker: few folks today consider the Moon, where we’ve already conducted crewed landings, deep space. By contrast, SSAS-Cislunar (see how easy it is to say?) is most definitely meant to support lunar surface, Earth-Moon neighborhood, and deep space activities.
Some might resist including “station” in the name to avoid the false impression that it will be a full-blown, just-further-away International Space Station, but such term aversion is in vain. If NASA or anyone else puts a semi- or fully-habitable anything somewhere out in space, everyone is going to think and say “station” no matter what its official name. “Station”—the idea and label—are too firmly fixed in our collective consciousness, put there by almost a century of serious proposals, science fiction, and unfolding history. The rest of the name should serve to prevent such misunderstanding.
That’s my suggestion. How about yours? In the comments below please offer your own suggestions for a better more effective name, and include supporting rationale. Thank you for any and all.