Apollo 10 astronauts Tom Stafford, John Young, and Gene Cernan were clearly big fans of the Peanuts comic strip, as they named their Command Service Module Charlie Brown and their Lunar Module Snoopy.
While most NASA personnel enjoyed the playful call signs for the spacecraft — going so far as to name the Peanuts characters as unofficial mascots for the mission — NASA public relations found the names to be inadequate. When it came time to adopt formal call signs for Apollo 11, the first mission that would actually land on the moon, NASA wasn't going to let history repeat itself.
Aldrin, Armstrong, and Michael Collins would be allowed to choose their own call signs, so long as they chose names appropriate to the momentous occasion. You can judge for yourself how well the Apollo 11 crew took the advice, given that the original name for their command module was Snowcone, and the lunar lander was originally called Haystack. All it took was for one press release to appear with those call signs attached, and NASA's PR flacks decided to rename the Apollo 11 spacecraft themselves.
The Apollo 11 command module became the Columbia, after the Columbiad capsule from Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon. The Apollo 11 lander became the Eagle, after the national bird of the United States. History bears little mention of Snowcone or Haystack, but now you may understand why Armstrong felt he was entitled to label his landing site Tranquility Base — whether NASA was prepared for it or not.
That's not just some capricious cartographic christening, it's a snarky selenological sample of Geek Trivia.
The quibble of the week
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Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can also follow him on his personal blog.