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A catchy NASA acronym could lead to restrooms on Mars


When NASA director Dr. Charles F. Bolden Jr. said that this year’s mission selection process was the most difficult session in more than two decades, it got me thinking:

I wonder how Barbara Eden is doing?

After a quick Google search found her alive and well, a second thought crossed my mind:

What is the criteria for giving a space mission the green light nowadays, especially in this era of cutbacks? And, perhaps more importantly, how do they manage to come up with such cool acronyms for each one?

After calling the NASA hotline and engaging its new automated information system known as Orbital News History and Official Lunar Development (ONHOLD), I eventually spoke with an actual Programs Education and Research Specialist Operator for Newspapers (PERSON).

It was during this conversation that I discovered the frightening truth. For many years NASA utilized a two-step process in determining its mission programs. This process involved having someone from the automobile industry submit the name of a new sport utility vehicle — Voyager, Odyssey, Explorer, Pathfinder, Contour — then force NASA scientists and astrophysicists to design a mission to go along with it.

I’m happy to say that this is no longer a practice at NASA.

For the most part, anyway.

You see, even though space missions are no longer being dictated by car manufacturers (and why the budget has been reduced to whatever NASA employees can scrape from their car ashtrays), catchy acronyms are still a must.

Here are just a few examples of how having the right name can mean the difference between getting a green light or red light for your mission project:

Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy:
Green light.

Mars Universal Cybernetic and Ultraviolet System:
Red light.

Fast Auroral Snapshot Explorer:
Green light.

Reflective Electron Cylindrical Transmitter and Universe Monitor:
Red light.

Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous:
Green light.

Unlimited-Rocket-Fueled Initiative Response Experimental Drone:
Red light.
Mosty by a lack of volunteers.

The truth is, while some programs have quickly moved to the launch pad, mission proposals that are just as important to mankind have been scrapped simply because they translated into acronyms like CUT-BACKS, SPUTNIK and VOMIT.

Which isn’t to say that missions scheduled for the near future aren’t beneficial. In March, Nasa will send an astronaut to the International Space Station for a year in order to study the long-term effects of zero gravity on the human body. The mission, Long-term Interstellar Motion Project (LIMP) even made the cover of TIME magazine.

Wait a MINUTE! Isn't that the guy from "Lost?"

Wait a MINUTE! Isn’t that the guy from “Lost?”

Also later this year, the FAME mission (Full-sky Astrometric Mapping Explorer), which was scrapped in 2009 when a remake of the 1980 movie of the same name imploded at the box office, will begin a five-year trek to map out and measure the distances between 40 million stars.

Both of these missions are critical steps in the evolution of civilian space travel…

“Are we almost there yet?”
“No. We’ve got six light years to go.”
“But I have to use the potty.”
“We just stopped for gas at the Milky Way! Why didn’t you go then?”
“I forgot.”
“Can you hold it?”
“For how long?”
“Just to Uranus.”

Remember: In space, no one can hear you scream.



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About Ned's Blog (35 Articles)
I've been a journalist and humor columnist at the Siuslaw News for 16 years. I'm also a volunteer firefighter. If the newspaper ever burns down, I will have some explaining to do. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

41 Comments on A catchy NASA acronym could lead to restrooms on Mars

  1. That’s very interestng Ned. I have to say, though, NASA’s dependence on commercial endeavors to determine mission viability is very unlike our somewhat limited but robust space program here in Canada. We tend to lean more towards national support for missions such as the following , which were both very successful:

    Multi Altitude Polar Latitude Extragalactic Satellite for Yellow Red Ultraviolet Pulsars =

    and, of course:

    Bolide Extinction and Ablation Visual Examination Research =

    I’m not sayng they’re better , but we like them.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. You skipped the Parallax Experiments Not Involving Satellites venture.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I would happily volunteer some hours for that LAB project!! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  4. greg wallace // January 19, 2015 at 12:37 pm //

    How could you have overlooked the Office of Geographic and Atmospheric Strategic Management?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love a man who knows how to use his big words.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Last month hubby and I were at Kennedy Space center in Cape Canaveral, FL. We saw the actual space shuttle since it is now on display after having been retired. I was humbled and overwhelmed a bit… it made me cry.
    The space program fascinates me! I think it is the coolest thing ever and would have loved to be a part of all that stuff growing up, but I’m not smart enough. I’m intelligent, but you have to be uber genius level and really good at math. I can’t balance my checkbook without a calculator. LOL!
    Loved your post! It is quite humorous to think about those guys sitting around coming up with some of those acronyms. (real and not) HEY… maybe I COULD do it! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • I went to the space center in Houston many years ago and, like you, was humbled by the accomplishments and sacrifices made by our space program andn its astronauts. I poke a little fun here, but I think what they do is absolutely incredible.

      And yeah, I stink at math so I knew at an early age I better set my sites on something more down to earth, like trying to make people laugh 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh great.. why do I have random quotes from Spaceballs running through my head now? WE’RE ALL A@@HOLES!


  8. You’ve no idea how much I needed to laugh today, buddy.
    Thanks for trying.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. ah, the old chicken and the egg method/paradox.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve got nothing! I’m laughing so hard at all of this (post & comments) there is no way I add anything that would be worthy. I bet Chris Hadfield could, though. He has a good sense of humour and probably has a box full of these.

    Liked by 2 people

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