The European Space Agency is asking people to choose a name for British astronaut Tim Peake’s next mission.
Citizens and residents of all the Agency’s member nations are eligible to enter the competition. The winning entry needs to be short and snappy and will be the official mission name and incorporated into the logo.
Major Peake is due to go to the International Space Station towards the end of 2015 and spend six months there carrying out scientific experiments.
It is customary for the public to help choose mission names every time a European astronaut goes into orbit. Names that reflect an astronaut’s nationality are encouraged, but they should also have a wider European flavour, and be easy to pronounce.
Previous mission names have included Marco Polo for the Italian Astronaut Roberto Vittori, Odissia for Belgian Frank de Winne, and DELTA Mission for Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers’ flight to the ISS. DELTA was an acronym for Dutch Expedition for Life Science, Technology and Atmospheric Research.
The aim of the competition, according to Rosita Suenson of the European Space Agency, is to engage the public.
She said, “We want people to feel part of Tim’s mission. It must be short, one or two words or an acronym, as it has to be incorporated into the mission logo.
Proper names and those that might be subject to copyright are unlikely to succeed. It should be a name that is easy to pronounce in other European languages, and it should be one that we can own in Europe.”
Once the copyrighted, hard to pronounce and parochial entries are weeded out, a team of linguists checks the remaining options to ensure that seemingly innocuous entries are not inadvertently rude in another European language. A short-list is then passed on to Major Peake, who makes the final choice.
Ms Suenson suggests that entrants should consider a name that embodies the man, his mission aims and his interests.
An early favourite is Beagle 3, a successor to Beagle 2, which was the name of the UK’s inspirational, but ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to put a probe on the surface of Mars. Another suggestion is Starman, inspired by the song of that name by David Bowie.
In the UK, Tim Peake is often referred to simply as Major Tim, which references a character from another Bowie hit Space Oddity. Another name that would celebrate UK science and reflect the microgravity experiments that Tim will be conducting on the ISS might be Newton.