Rename a NASA satellite

By Phil Plait | February 10, 2008 8:18 pm

The naming of names for astronomical satellites is a funny game. Most are weird acronyms (WFPC, STIS, NICMOS are all Hubble cameras), which many times are puns on the mission itself (FAST). Some are named simply, after astronomers who contributed to the field of study (Chandra, Spitzer). The Swift satellite is not an acronym or named after anyone. It’s just a swift satellite.

Right now, the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope is very close to launch. But "GLAST" is not the best name. I worked on the education and public outreach for the mission for years, and sometimes the hardest part was using that name (though it made for some fun puns; I wrote articles like "The GLAST Resort"). Because of the picture we used a lot for GLAST, shown on the left, I called it the "flying cheese block".

It’s time to rename GLAST into something cool. And NASA wants you to help.

Got an idea for a new name for GLAST? Send it to NASA (through Sonoma State University)! There are some things you need to know, though. For example, it’s a gamma-ray observatory, so if you want to name it after some gamma ray pioneer, they can’t still be alive (that’s a NASA tradition). The name should be catchy, but not too silly (it’s a $350 million mission that’s managed by both NASA and the Department of Energy, so some modicum of decorum is necessary). It needs to be simple, and easy to say (so Mxyzpltlk is out, even if you try to say it backwards).

I actually don’t have too many ideas. Jan van Paradijs was a beloved astronomer who worked on gamma-ray astrophysics, but his name is too hard to spell for most Americans. Maybe some variation on it?

Please, no Mr. Spaceypants. It doesn’t matter anyway; this isn’t a vote or a contest, just a way to suggest cool names for the mission.

To get you started: GLAST will look at high-energy radiation from black holes, active galaxies, gamma-ray bursts, antimatter annihilation, and even from solar flares. If you go the acronym route, GR is not a bad combo for some good words (can we get GROK out of it? OGRE?). Gamma rays are Super High Energy, too. Also, it’s not a traditional telescope, either.

The deadline is March 31, 2008. So get thinking! Post your suggestions in the comments. Let’s see what we can come up with!


Comments (68)

  1. I already responded to the contest last week. My entry was:


    Gamma RAy Burst Information Telescope.

    This may just have a chance…I hope.


  2. owlbear1

    No ‘Spaceypants’? So, “The Gamma Gobbler” probably won’t make the final cut?

  3. Greg in Austin

    High Energy Radiation O>bservatory.

  4. Greg in Austin

    High Energy Radiation Observatory.

    I would also like to add my name to the list of people requesting an Edit function, or a Preview function. Most forums have that ability.

    If I had my own TARDIS, I’d go back in time and correct my mistakes. But, then again, I’d have to do it on a daily basis… ūüėČ

  5. Kevin Conod

    HERO: I like it – it even has a superpower: Gamma-ray vision!

  6. Eric TF Bat

    Gamma rays? What about “Banner“? And he’s a HERO too, kind of…

  7. V.I.N.C BURST

    Vital Information Necessary Collections Burst. Pronounced like Vince, or Vincent for shorter speech. Based on the name of a character from 1979’s “Black Hole” V.I.N.CENT. (Vital Information Necessary CENTralized) and the SAT collects Bursts of gamma. Not the most original idea, but I remember growing up with that movie and I blame it for my love of black holes.

  8. Richie

    Yeah, I suspect this suggestion’s gonna get shot down fast…

    Gamma Observatory/Detector, or just plain “GOD”

    I can just see the dinner conversations:

    Person A: So, you hear what GOD’s been up to lately?
    Person B: Something about discovering another black hole?
    Person C: Maybe God blew up a star.
    Person A: What? GOD can’t do that!
    Person C: Hey! God can do anything!
    Person A: No it can’t! It can only…
    Person C: BLASPHEMER!

  9. Dave Hall

    I prefer “BOB”.

  10. Just sent mine in:
    Gamma Ray Energy Assay Telescope, GREAT.
    But I think HERO is better…
    We shall see, won’t we?

  11. Nick

    Orbital Gamma Ray Explorer

  12. John Bono

    Why not just straight up “Hawking?” The name is synonymous with black holes for a good reason anyway.

  13. Max Fagin


    Gama RAY and Stellar Antimatter Telescope

  14. Michael Lonergan

    John Bono, Hawking isn’t dead yet. How about the “James Doohan/DeForrest Kelley beam me up Scotty dammit Jim I’m a doctor Not a Gamma Ray Observer Memorial Observatory?”

    No? Too long? HERO it is then…. No one ever votes for me… :(

  15. Quiet Desperation


    Mere human names are irrelevant.

  16. Chris R.

    I assume “Harold Zoid Memorial Observation Telescope (HZMOT)” would be looked down upon?

  17. The Supreme Canuck

    Gamma-ray Large Area Detection and Observation Satellite

    Yep. GLADOS.

    “I’ve experiments to run.
    There is research to be done.
    On the people who are
    still alive.
    And believe me I am
    still alive.
    I’m doing science and I’m
    still alive.
    I feel fantastic and I’m
    still alive.”

    Doo dee doo doo doo doo duh…

  18. DexX

    Looking at the original suggestions of GR and SHE I immediately thought SHE-OGRE, which fills my head with disturbing imagery.

    Riffing on the Gamma-ray Doctor Banner theme, HULK is a catchy name too, though you’d have to construct a retrospective acronym for it. ūüėČ

  19. Okay, I can’t be the only one seeing Paradijs -> Paradise…

  20. How about DREAM (Deep-space gamma-Ray high-Energy Antimatter Measurer) Or DREAMT (Deep-space gamma-Ray high-Energy Antimatter Measuring Telescope)?

  21. Stuart

    Infophile: You’re on the money! Paradijs is the Dutch word for Paradise.

  22. Ginger Yellow

    Serenity, obviously.

  23. Ian Regan

    Gamma Ray Orbital Penetrative Explorer…

    or GROPE !

  24. Why, why, WHY does NASA insist on using cute names and acronyms? What the hell was wrong with program names like “Mariner”, “Explorer”, “Gemini”, “Vanguard”, “Pioneer”, “Viking” and the like? Those sound dignified rather than the schoolgirlish attempts at neat-o acronyms which NASA has been spewing for nigh on a quarter century.

    Call the mapping program “Carto” (for cartography) and slap a numerical suffix on the name for each satellite in the program. It’s simple, elegant, descriptive, and — this is important so pay attention — it doesn’t come across as having been named by a 14-year-old trying to look clever.

    Or call it Erebus after the Greek god of darkness and shadow (or Erebus 1 if other satellites with similar missions are to fly within a decade of this bird’s launch). But whatever you do, DROP THE CHILDISH ACRONYMS!

    My next rant will be about cutting off the count-down guy’s microphone as soon as he reaches the word, “lift-off”.

  25. Radwaste

    Hmm. Super High Intensity Telescope. Just the thing for the name of a probe… looking for a…
    What? Oh, I get it. It’s not a probe, because it’s staying in orbit. OK. Whee.

    Use the name of a person. The public knows what Hubble is, even as they go totally blank when shown the pretty pictures.

  26. w_nightshade

    I vote the “Plait”.

  27. The satelite should be named after the brown Norwegian cheese it looks like; G-35!

  28. Hello,

    High Energy Astronomy Telescope (you could also pronounce it more like HIT, implying the impact of high energy particles)

    also… heat may also suggest the extreme nature of the space environments GLAST will look upon.

    P.S. HERO also sounds great!

  29. Roy Batty

    I suggested ‘Villard’ after the principle discoverer/recogniser of Gamma rays – he didn’t seem to receive much credit for it at the time.

  30. Todd

    How about “Colbert”? He didn’t manage to get the bridge in Hungary because he was, well, still alive, so how about a satellite?

  31. Rav Winston
  32. dannyness

    Gallery Space Telescope

    Gallery Space Telescope= Ga(mma-ray) + L(arge) + Area + Space Telescope.

  33. John

    How about “Gamma-ray Oriented Observation Gallery, LargE?” Or is that taken?

  34. Unfortunately, the idea that instantly popped into my head doesn’t work, but it makes for a great.. nay, the greatest name for a near-IR telescope: CoLBERT (explanation on my weblog).

  35. Biggus Dickus

    It’s too bad the European Space Agency isn’t involved. Then it could be the:

    NASA /
    Observatory !!

  36. alfaniner

    No cool acronym, but I always thought that some space object should be named The Skywise.

    Pick up a copy of the original ElfQuest comic if you don’t know why.

  37. Pop

    GAT – GAmma-ray Telescope.

    Quick, simple, easy to say, doesn’t take up much print space.

    If a GAT-2 was sent up, it would almost sound like a scifi name: “GATTWO.” From the Messanian language “Amoroc gattoo sprodic” – pass the cheeze.

    BTW, HERO sounds too school girlish, yes it does.

  38. TheElkMechanic
  39. Michael Lonergan

    Ian, How about taking it a step further, the “GROPE Probe”? I can guarantee, no one would forget it, and more than a few people will…. never mind…..

  40. Shoeshine Boy

    Slightly OT, but related to the blog article….I’d heard that SWIFT was named for the bird, which can change direction very quickly. Unfortunately, I can’t recall exactly where, except is was a TV program.

  41. GO NASA — The Gamma Observatory from the National Acronym-Slinging Administration.

  42. Can anything become TASE? In honor of 2007.

  43. Richard Smith

    @ The Supreme Canuck: Gamma-ray Large Area Detection and Observation Satellite

    Yep. GLADOS.

    I second this one. After all, the satellite is an orange box…

  44. Just Al

    It’s a Gamma Ray Observatory that looks like cheese and no one has tricked out the last three letters for “GROMIT”?

  45. Wildride
  46. The block of cheese references catch my imagination… perhaps Winsleydale?

  47. flynjack

    I too like HERO……but how about HEART High Energy and Radiation Telescope?

  48. RAM

    I said Mxyzpltlk backwords and I disappeared and then reappeared here
    dang you superman oh, sorry I mean Phil

  49. Quiet_Desperation

    Yep. GLADOS.

    Will there be cake to celebrate the launch?

    Did you hear the rumors of Portal 2? Woot!

  50. BovineSupreme

    I totally submitted Incredible Hulk. No acronym. NASA has enough acronyms flying around.

  51. Christopher
  52. KaiYeves

    Darn, Eric beat me to it. I was going to suggest HULK.

  53. Factoid

    I swear, I thought of “Mr. Spaceypants” even before I got all the way to the bottom of the article. If I’d been drinking coffee it would have been all over my keyboard.

  54. Brian Hart

    A chronology of all Marvel Comic known gamma irradiated beings. I’m sure we can find a suitable name here:

  55. Will

    How about The DUDE? It doesn’t stand for anything, but it will help energize the stoner crowd to throw its support, cheetos, and political clout into astronomy.

  56. Rules For

    Gamow, after George Gamow of the famous Alpher-Bethe-Gamow paper.

  57. Svlad Cjelli

    Orbital Gamma-Ray Examiner

  58. Doc

    … square … orange-yellow …

    “Sponge Bob Space Pants” ?

  59. Gypsy_Jim


    Plain, simple, and it kind of is…..

    Though if I had to pick any of the above, then my vote would have to be “HERO” too.

  60. As for the example of Marvel Comics gamma-irradiated folks — isn’t that a prime example of popular pseudoscience?

    The old (1960s) limited-animation cartoon theme ran:

    “DOC Bruce Banner,/BELTED by gamma rays,/TURNS into the Hulk…”

    A realistic version would be more like

    “DOC Bruce Banner,/BELTED by gamma rays,/GETS leukemia…”

  61. ABR

    ‚ÄúDOC Bruce Banner,/BELTED by gamma rays,/TURNS into the Hulk‚Ķ‚ÄĚ

    Naaa, he was BELTED because of the decency laws!

  62. I second SAGAN.

    If that doesn’t cut it, how about SCHRODINGER?

  63. MaribuS

    Hot Universe Looking Kit = HULK.

  64. Mike Langford

    I have two suggestions for the re-naming of GLAST, the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope:

    Quixote — because GLAST, much like Don Quixote, will boldly live each day as a quest for seemingly impossible visions.

    – or –

    The Sir Arthur C. Clarke Observatory — or The Clarke Telescope — to honor Clarke, perhaps the greatest science-fiction writer of our time, who warned of the danger to human survival from gamma-ray bursts. In a strange coincidence, the brightest gamma-ray burst ever observed — also the most intrinsically bright object ever seen and the furthest object ever observable with the unaided eye — was detected by the Swift satellite just hours after Clarke’s passing on March 18.
    See the complete NASA story:

  65. Will

    We already have telescopes – they’re nothing new. But this one is basically a new set of “eyes” for us. So what about:?



  66. Will

    The Bible!!??? LOL!!! That’s right up there with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. But you go on and keep kidding yourselves if that’s what makes you sleep at night….

  67. Jim Harmon

    COLBERT. There is no other choice.


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