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What’s in a Name?

The scene: July 9, 2005, nearly midnight. A large conference room at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center full of assorted scientists, engineers, and support staff. This was the launch party for Astro-E2, a joint Japanese-American satellite mission strapped to a rocket thousands of miles away from Goddard at Uchinoura Space Center in southern Japan. The lucky few were at the launch site, and the rest of us showed up at work on a Saturday night to celebrate.

Streaming video was projected on a screen, the voices and captions in Japanese. I was running back and forth between the party and an office down the hall, updating our mission blog to reflect the latest launch status. The countdown began (in Japanese), and we watched Astro-E2 zoom toward the cosmos until the last camera on the launch vehicle lost signal. Success! We knew Astro-E2 would be christened with a new name, but not until it had successfully completed a full orbit of the Earth. We waited for the telephone call, the voice from the other side of the planet that would tell us the satellite’s new name: Suzaku.

All of the building and testing (and waiting) was over. This new name reflected a new era for the mission, but it took some time to get used to it. Websites, file names, email addresses – everything was now outdated. For weeks, I caught myself calling the mission by its old name. People stumbled over the pronunciation. And we found ourselves re-promoting the mission, making the connection between the familiar old name and the exotic new one.

Which name do I prefer? Definitely Suzaku! But that experience spurred a fascination with NASA names, where they come from and what they mean. When Stephen Colbert campaigned to get the latest ISS node named for himself, we saw an opportunity to make a podcast episode about how things are named here. In honor of Mr. Colbert, and NASA’s well-known love of acronyms, we present the Conciliatory On-Line Blueshift Episodic Recorded Transmission – the C.O.L.B.E.R.T. episode.

Check out The C.O.L.B.E.R.T. Episode, released today!

Listen to the new episode, and follow us on Twitter – we’re @NASAblueshift!

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