Dreaming A Different Apollo, Part Two: Naming Names

A lunar outpost near an abandoned Apollo Lunar Module descent stage (left). Image credit: European Space Agency.
The names we give to places on and off Earth and to vessels of sea and space have long fascinated me. The Moon is one of my favorite places because it is covered with names of scientists and engineers, each of whom has an intriguing biography. At the insistence of Carl Sagan, Mercury bears the names of artists, musicians, poets, and the like, so it is also interesting.

Other worlds have other themes assigned to them. The Uranian moon Miranda, for example, draws names from Shakespeare's The Tempest and locations in Shakespeare's plays.

The Royal Navy in the Age of Fighting Sail is a great source for picturesque ship names, and science fiction seldom disappoints. The late, great Iain M. Banks had a particular talent for irreverent names, which he applied to the intelligent starships of his The Culture setting: I Blame the Parents is one of my favorites.

In Part One of this series (see link below), I described a world in which the Apollo Program did not die; one in which U.S. taxpayers opted to squeeze their $24-billion Apollo investment for all it was worth instead of (as President Lyndon Baines Johnson put it) pissing it all away. I did not give the Apollo Command and Service Module (CSM) and Lunar Module (LM) spacecraft in that post names for fear of making more confusing an already complicated series of missions. In this post, I mean to rectify that omission.

During Apollo as flown, we saw the following spacecraft names (or, perhaps more properly, call-signs): Apollo 7, none; Apollo 8, none; Apollo 9, CSM Gumdrop and LM Spider; Apollo 10, CSM Charlie Brown and LM Snoopy; Apollo 11, CSM Columbia and LM Eagle; Apollo 12, CSM Yankee Clipper and LM Intrepid; Apollo 13, CSM Odyssey and LM Aquarius; Apollo 14, CSM Kitty Hawk and LM Antares; Apollo 15, CSM Endeavour and LM Falcon; Apollo 16, CSM Casper and LM Orion; and Apollo 17, CSM America and LM Challenger. Apollo 7 and Apollo 8 were CSM-only missions, so their spacecraft did not need names to distinguish them from their LMs in radio communications. Their CSMs were thus known by their mission designations alone.

Part One of this post series continued the Apollo series with the Saturn V launch of the Olympus 1 space station in late 1971. My alternate-history NASA designated the unstaffed station launch Apollo 18. Olympus is, of course, a relatively modest mountain in Greece that was the home of the Greek Gods. It was also a favorite name among 1960s space station planners — for example, Edward Olling — at NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) in Houston. (In 1973, following the death of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, MSC was renamed in his honor.)

The first Apollo CSM to reach Olympus 1 was Apollo 19. It was another CSM-only mission, so bore no spacecraft name — much as the Skylab CSMs in our timeline had only numbers (Skylab 2, Skylab 3, and Skylab 4 — Skylab 1 was the launch of the Skylab station). Apollo 20, nearly identical to Apollo 19 apart from its duration (its crew lived on board Olympus 1 for 56 days in early 1972, twice as long as the Apollo 19 crew) also bore no name.
After that, though, NASA had a change of heart. It developed and retroactively applied an alphanumeric designation system for flights and encouraged crews to name their spacecraft, much as it had during Project Mercury (but not during Project Gemini). The alphanumeric system pleased NASA bureaucrats; naming piloted spacecraft in single-spacecraft missions was a public-relations ploy meant to point up the distinctive qualities of the individual CSM-only missions to the Olympus stations.

NASA called it Skylab; in my alternate-history world, I call it Olympus 1. Image credit: NASA.
The Apollo 19 mission, which flew the first K-class CSM with modifications for long-duration space station missions, became O-1/K-1/R-1 (Olympus 1/K-class CSM 1/Resident Crew 1). Apollo 20 became O-1/K-2/R-2.

Between Apollo 19 and Apollo 20, NASA began gradually to abandon the term "manned." The change of terminology had two justifications: first, NASA was keen to distinguish between missions that included astronauts who traveled to a destination, such as the Moon, and those that included astronauts who lived for extended periods on board a long-term facility in space, such as a space station. The former came to be referred to as "piloted" missions and the latter, "staffed" missions.

The new terminology also acknowledged an ongoing shift in U.S. society toward greater inclusion. As President Richard Nixon stated in his Second Inaugural Address in January 1972: "our country has always known its greatest success when all of its people participate in all parts of the great American adventure."

Apollo 21 (I-1), the one and only I-class piloted CSM-only lunar polar orbiter mission, was dubbed Endurance by its two-man crew, who orbited the Moon for 28 days to image potential landing sites for advanced L-class Apollo lunar landing missions planned to begin in late 1974. An automated imaging orbiter was considered for the mission, but was rejected because it would have required costly new development (for example, a complicated automated capsule system for returning to Earth its exposed film) as well as a unique Saturn IB upper stage configuration.
The crew of Apollo 22 (O-1/K-3/R-3) named their CSM Discovery. They docked with Olympus 1 in June 1972 for a 112-day stay. Ninety days into their flight, the two-person crew of Apollo 23 (O-1/K-4/V-1), the first space station short-stay visitor crew, docked at Olympus 1's radial port to check on the health of the Apollo 22 crew and certify continuation of their mission. In a poetic reference to their short stay of only 10 days, they named their CSM Hummingbird.

Apollo 24 (J-3), launched in October 1972, was a lunar landing mission resembling our Apollo 15, Apollo 16, and Apollo 17 missions. In fact, it carried the original Apollo 17 crew of Eugene Cernan, Joseph Engle, and Ronald Evans. In our timeline, Apollo 17 was the last piloted mission to the Moon of the 20th century, so geologist Harrison Schmitt, the only professional scientist to reach the Moon, replaced Engle as LM Pilot. Cernan, Engle, and Evans named their CSM America and their LM Challenger, just as Cernan, Schmitt, and Evans did in our timeline.

Schmitt was one of six scientist-astronauts selected as part of Group 4 in June 1965. He would fly Apollo 17, and three other Group 4 astronauts — Joseph Kerwin, Owen Garriott, and Edward Gibson — would fly as Science Pilots on the three Skylab missions. Garriott also flew a Space Shuttle mission. In our timeline, Schmitt was originally assigned to fly Apollo 18; after it was cut, he was moved to Apollo 17.

It would obviously be different in the "Dreaming a Different Apollo" timeline. Schmitt would not be the first Group 4 scientist-astronaut to fly; several would reach Olympus stations before he set out for the Moon. He would become the first Group 4 astronaut to reach the Moon, but not (as was the case in our timeline) the only one. He would also fly to the Moon a second time and never seek to be elected U.S. Senator from New Mexico.

In our timeline, NASA selected the 11 scientist-astronauts of Group 6 in August 1967, just as Congress finished slashing President Johnson's request for funds to begin major work on the Apollo Applications Program (AAP) in Fiscal Year 1968. AAP shrank rapidly and morphed into Skylab in early 1970. Of the eleven Group 6 scientists, seven eventually flew Space Shuttle missions. In the "Dreaming a Different Apollo" timeline, most would fly Apollo missions before 1976.

This is a good place to consider how astronaut selection would unfold in the alternate timeline. Seven refugees from the cancelled U.S. Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory would join NASA in August 1969 as Group 7, just as they did in our timeline. In our timeline, they were the last astronauts selected until January 1978, when Group 8 — which included among its 35 members the first minority and women astronauts — was selected to fly on board Space Shuttles.

In the "Dreaming a Different Apollo" timeline, NASA would, beginning with Group 7, select new astronaut groups of about 10 members about every three or four years to bring in new skills and make up for attrition. Group 8 would, as in our timeline, include the first U.S. women and minority spacefarers, but they would join NASA in January 1971, not January 1978.

Older astronauts of our timeline's Group 8 might join Group 9 (1974) and younger ones might join Group 10 (1977) or Group 11 (1981). In general, though, NASA would need fewer astronauts. Because of this, many individuals who flew in space in our timeline might never join the space agency as astronauts.

Given the "morality" and prejudices of the 1970s, it seems likely that NASA would find excuses not to fly women as members of Olympus Resident or Apollo lunar crews, though several would reach Olympus 3 as members of Visitor crews. One would serve as Visitor crew Commander in 1979. The thought of mixed-gender crews on long-duration and minimal-privacy lunar missions would, however, make many American taxpayers uncomfortable.

In the early 1980s, however, this would rapidly change. Once the spaceflight "glass ceiling" was shattered, many women would fly in space in many roles, just as in our timeline.

Apollo 25 (J-4) would be an engineering/technology-development mission to the Apollo 24 site meant to prepare NASA for L-class missions and eventual lunar outposts. In addition to accomplishing a precision landing almost exactly one kilometer from the Apollo 24 LM descent stage, which they inspected in considerable detail, the Apollo 25 crew collected materials-exposure cassettes and meteoroid, dust, and solar-particle capture cells the Apollo 24 crew had left behind. They also collected geologic samples scientists studying Apollo 24 samples and photos had determined were of special interest. The Apollo 25 crew named their CSM Franklin and their LM Carver to honor the famous American inventors and scientists.

Journey to a lava tube cave. Image credit: NASA.
Apollo 26 (O-2) was the launch of the Olympus 2 station without a crew. Apollo 27 (O-2/K-5/R-1) saw three astronauts live on board the second U.S. space station for 224 days. They named their CSM Freedom, which led one stand-up comedian to quip that it should have been called "Incarceration."

The crew received the Apollo 28 (0-2/K-6/V-1) CSM Athena, Apollo 29 (O-2/K-7/V-2) CSM Amity, and the Apollo 30 (O-2/K-8/V-3) CSM Liberty. Apollo 28 included among its crew Shannon Lucid, the first American woman in space, Apollo 29 included Jean-Loup Chr├ętien of France, the first non-U.S./non-Soviet astronaut in space, and Apollo 30 included CSM Pilot Milton Bromley, the first person of African descent in space. The Apollo 30 Visitor crew returned to Earth in the Apollo 27 CSM Freedom, leaving CSM Liberty for the Apollo 27 Resident crew.

The Apollo 31 Saturn V, which bore no crew, launched a pair of Radio/TV Relay Satellites to Earth-Moon L2 and Apollo 32 (O-3) Saturn V, which also bore no crew, launched Olympus 3, the first of the "long-life" space stations. The Apollo 33 (O-3/K-9/R-1) crew, the first to stay on board a space station for what became the "routine" interval of 180 days, reached Olympus 3 in the CSM Eos, which was named for the Greek goddess of the dawn.
Apollo 34 (J-5) in February 1974, the last of the J-class missions, landed in dark-floored Tsiolkovskii crater on the Moon's Farside hemisphere. Harrison Schmitt was the mission's LM Pilot and the first geologist on the Moon. They named their CSM Beagle as a dual tribute to the famous exploring ship of Charles Darwin and the comics character Snoopy, the de facto mascot of NASA piloted spaceflight. They named their LM for the red-golden star Arcturus, long seen as a harbinger of springtime.

The Apollo 35 (O-3/K-10/V-1) CSM Hermes delivered the first drum-shaped Cargo Carrier (CC-1) to Olympus 3 and the Apollo 36 (O-3/K-11/V-2) CSM Independence caused it to re-enter after the Apollo 33 crew unloaded it. Hermes was, among other things, the Greek God of Commerce, The Messenger of the Gods, and the half-brother of Apollo. The Apollo 37 (O-3/K-12/R-2) CSM Celeste (a feminine name meaning "heavenly") delivered the large Argus telescope module to Olympus 3.
The Apollo 38 (L-1A) mission saw the LM-derived Lunar Cargo Carrier-1 (LCC-1) launched without a crew on a Saturn V on a direct path to the planned landing site of the Apollo 40 (L-1B) mission. Apollo 38 included no CSM. The Apollo 39 (O-3/K-13/V-3) CSM Shenandoah was the first of more than a dozen K-class CSM spacecraft named for U.S. national parks and monuments.

The Apollo 40 CSM was the first L-class Advanced CSM (ACSM) and its LM was the first L-class Advanced LM (ALM). The Apollo 40 crew named their ACSM Aquila, for the constellation The Eagle, and their ALM Altair, for its brightest star. Drawing on equipment and supplies from LCC-1, the lunar surface crew used Altair as their base camp to explore a complex landing site for one week. This more than doubled the three-day J-class lunar stay-time.
The Apollo 41 (O-3/K-14/R-3) CSM Constitution delivered the Olympus 3 station's third Resident crew while its second Resident crew was still on board, marking the beginning of continuous station occupation. The Apollo 42 (O-3/K-15/V-4) CSM was named Adventure.

The Apollo 43 (O-3/K-16/V-5) crew named its CSM Yosemite, and the Apollo 44 (O-3/K-17/R-4) crew named its CSM Acadia. Yosemite is, of course, a famous national park in California; Acadia was the the first national park established east of the Mississippi River.
My first Dreaming a Different Apollo post ended with the launch of Apollo 44 in December 1975. The timeline could, of course, continue (and, I suspect, probably will). One can imagine an ACSM called Draco paired with an ALM named Thuban, the constellation Draco's rather faint brightest star. I am sure that we will see an Enterprise at some point. 

Direct Ascent moon lander with Apollo-style Earth-reentry module (top) from NASA's 1991-1994 First Lunar Outpost (FLO) study. Image credit: NASA.
I expect that the Apollo series would continue into the late 1980s or early 1990s. By the beginning of the 1990s decade, the Lunar-Orbit Rendezvous Apollo mission scheme would give way to Direct-Ascent missions, in which a single spacecraft would launch from Earth and travel directly to a lunar base. Opportunities for naming spacecraft would become fewer, but almost certainly would continue.

More Information

Dreaming a Different Apollo, Part One: Shameless Wishful Thinking

Space Station Resupply: The 1963 Plan to Turn the Apollo Spacecraft Into a Space Freighter

Apollo's End: NASA Cancels Apollo 15 & Apollo 19 to Save Station/Shuttle (1970)


  1. This was just fantastic, David. The detail and imagination you put into your alternate-history posts is admirable. Keep up the great work!

  2. I loved this, as always.

    One question, you refer to Schmitt's group as number 6. Was he not in group 4, selected before the large group 5 that included Haise, Engle, Mitchell, Roosa, Evans etc? Or am I mixing the real and other timelines?

    1. Thank you for catching that error. I will fix that forthwith. And thanks for the kudos, too.


  3. Oh sure. By this scenario we would have been pragmatic like the Russians and still be flying Apollos to this day, like they do their Soyuz's. How many billions would we have saved in terms of iterative architecture development versus the revolutionary Space Shuttle, we may never know. I LIKED the Space Shuttle, it was "cool". But building on a common platform and using minor upgrades and development may have produced 20 moon visits, surface bases, and orbital outposts during the same interval or likely earlier.

    Would we give up 30 years of cool Space Shuttle for more moon visits and iterative architecture? Well, in my view, experience farther away would justify that as deep space is more challenging than LEO. Plus, we likely would have developed the smaller "Dyna-Soar" concept for cheap during the same time.

    I like this scenario. In retrospect, a little disappointed it didn't play out that way.

    1. I always liked the Russian "iterative" approach, though that was forced on them by Soviet politics & financial constraints as much as anything else. They were forced to mine different scattered programs from different design bureaux for hardware, combine that hardware, and then build on that for half a century. The end result is everyone in the world depends on them for ISS transport and ISS could not have been built without their hard-won experience.

      I do not have a good point-of-departure for this scenario. I sort of assume a general increase in IQs in the mid-to-late 1960s. :-) Or maybe Nixon fell in the bathtub and died the day after his first inauguration and Tom Paine managed to sell President Agnew on continued piloted missions. Or something.

      The moon base scenario will build from a couple of studies. We'll start out with ALMs visiting a single site in succession, gradually building up resources - tools, transport, etc. Then, I'll start introducing the direct-ascent vehicles. That's from a 1966 study, BTW. Actually, the LCC is an incremental first step toward direct-ascent.


  4. Awesome. Don't stop writing this blog!

  5. Dear David,
    About the non-US publications which we discussed in your previous post: it turns out that I have access to the full collection since 1949 (!) and to many other European journals and magazines dealing with space exploration - some other collections also starting in the 1940‘s and 1950's. I would be happy to help you in your gathering of historical info, so do not hesitate to contact me directly if you are interested. I try to avoid writing my e-mail on a plain web page but you can find it on the web site of my institute:
    (the adress is linked to the enveloppe icon)
    Best regards

    1. Simon:

      You know what - I just discovered this email in my spam folder. It was the *only* one there that wasn't genuine spam. I feel terrible that I seem to have ignored your kind offer - not because I missed out on documents, but because that's just rude. I apologize. I'll be in touch through your institute.


  6. thank you for what could/should have been a wonderful alternate to reality.
    always a great read :)
    i noticed a typo, where "12"'s designation calls are listed for 2 missions, omitting "13" for Odyssey & Aquarius

  7. Ah, I see what you mean. Thanks for pointing that out!


  8. I read that when MOL was canceled, 13 of the 14 astronauts still with that program were interested in transferring to NASA. NASA decided they had to be no older than 34 years at a certain date to be accepted because not many astronauts were needed and none of the MOL men would get a mission for a long time. Maybe in this timeline, NASA would have accepted all 13 because the program was really going to shift into high gear in the 1970s.

  9. That's a good observation, and one I wouldn't have thought of - thanks! The only possible objection I can see would be "political" - would an infusion of military astronauts that large be perceived as a militarization of NASA's civilian program? I know there was some concern about flying NASA experiments on MOL - for example, using MOL optics for astronomy. There was the security angle - NASA involvement would mean more transparency for MOL - and the political angle - would NASA's own space station efforts be compromised? It was a complex situation.

    I thought about introducing some military missions in the late 1970s - CSM + modified cargo module instrument carrier. CSM names like "Guardian," "Vigilance," "Minuteman," and "Defender."


  10. I've always said that the Saturn approach was sustainable, contrary to the NASA/gov't bashing new-spacers

  11. I think that, once one has spent $25 billion (1970 $) on a spacecraft system that works well because you've beaten a lot of the bugs out of it and has behind it nearly a decade of studies on how to improve and expand it, often with modest hardware and operational changes, it is by most measures ridiculous not to squeeze it for everything it's worth. That is, assuming that as a nation the choice has been made to explore space with astronauts indefinitely.


  12. why would the lunar missions go on to use Direct Ascent? That's a massive waste of fuel and money...

    1. It depends on what your objectives are on the moon. If you want a long-term surface base or you want freedom to visit any place on the lunar surface, you'll want to revert to Direct Ascent. That's because Direct Ascent requires no rendezvous in lunar orbit. That means that you can leave the moon at any time and not need a big plane change maneuver to rendezvous with your ride home. In addition, all points on the moon are equally accessible. Rendezvous in lunar orbit favors near-equatorial landing sites, again because of plane change requirements.

      Mid-1960s plans for post-Apollo lunar systems reverted to Direct Ascent with a "crasher" stage and a Saturn V with strap-on boosters and a stretched S-II stage. After Apollo, most lunar plans followed either EOR or Direct Ascent profiles.

      LOR limitations were understood early on and were a major reason why several NASA centers resisted its selection. LOR was good for getting to the moon cheaply and quickly, as required by JFK's geopolitically motivated Apollo goal. JFK's science advisor, Jerome Weisner, was dead set against LOR, and in fact sought to quash it well after NASA HQ selected it. JFK had to intervene personally to get him to back off.


  13. David, I always enjoy reading these and your other writings. It's a bit of guilty, and wistful, pleasure.

  14. RP:

    The alternate history posts are a guilty pleasure for me, too. There's so much real space history to explore. But they help me think about missions and plans in new ways, so I guess they aren't all bad. I have a new installment about half done, BTW.



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