The Space Shuttle Was Almost Called ‘Pegasus’

Alternate names for the Space Shuttle that nearly were: Starlighter, Pegasus, Space Clipper

The Space Shuttle Enterprise at the Smithsonian Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Washington. Photo: Brian Sloane

One of the perks of being President is that you get to make seemingly simple decisions that can carry over into a long-lasting legacy. Take, for instance, the decision of what to name NASA’s brand new space shuttle program, circa the early 1970s. As dug up by Slate’s Rebecca Onion, on the site’s brand new history blog The Vault, some of the advisors to then-President Nixon didn’t really like the name “space shuttle” all that much. They thought that it was kind of boring and that such a behemoth of engineering needed a name with a little more pizzazz.

“I feel this name does not have the lift or importance which the project deserves,” said Assistant to the President Peter Flanigan in a 1972 memo. “The word “shuttle” has a connotation of second class travel and lacks excitement.”

“Shuttle” stuck, obviously. But Nixon’s advisors seemed to have had a bit of fun coming up with more colorful alternates. Their top three choices: “Pegasus,” “Space Clipper” and “Starlighter.” Here’s the memo Onion found:

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