Nasa / Space

Geek Trivia: What were the 'controversial' call signs for the Apollo 10 spacecraft?

The crew of Apollo 10 chose unorthodox nicknames for their lunar command module and lander. The Trivia Geek asks: What were those call signs?

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.

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About

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 a...

26 comments
seanferd
seanferd

Ahh, the heady days of early space exploration. I'm grateful to have the Trivia Geek about to remind us of some of the finer points of cultural trivia surrounding the space program, among other things.

ProfQuill
ProfQuill

I fear, especially today, naming anything after a commercial product would be fraught with legal dangers, yet at the same time opens up some interesting opportunities. You can imagine the Disney Corporation suing the bejezus out of NASA if they used the name of one of their properties without permission and copyright clearance, especially if something about the mission had any negative connotation. On the other hand, with the naming rights frenzy today, NASA could pick up a bucket of change plastering corporate names all over everything. I do however, cringe at the very thought of spacecraft sullified the way NASCAR vehicles are.

Rick in PA
Rick in PA

I always liked the name "Snoopy" for the Apollo 10 LEM. I thought it was both cute and appropriate. I often wonder how Charles Schultz felt about the honor of having the spacecraft named after one of his characters. But then Charles Schultz was a space exploration supporter. He gave many people many smiles, so I think he fairly deserved the honor.

QPhysics
QPhysics

"... but now you may understand why Armstrong felt he was entitled to label his landing site Tranquility Base..." Pretty sure he called it Tranquility Base because the landing site was in the Sea of Tranquility.

Husker2011
Husker2011

Armstrong told capcom Charlie Duke about the Tranquillity Base call sign before launch. Duke was speechless from the rather dicey nature of the first landing; they were almost out of fuel when Eagle landed.

Stargzer
Stargzer

Forty years later it occurs to me that the first words from Apollo 13 when they separated from the service module and saw the damage should have been "Curse you, Red Baron!"

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I clearly remember a photo of the Apollo 10 LEM taken from the CSM. The LEM was skewed about 120 degrees from the LEM's 'vertical', with the caption "Snoopy never could fly straight". Good stuff, Jay, as always. This one brought back a lot of memories.

kr4st
kr4st

Charlie Brown & snoopy

GovRon
GovRon

Another obscure bit of trivia from the landing: Armstrong had long planned the first words he planned to speak when he stepped on to the moon. Unfortunately, he screwed them up. He planned to say, "One small step for a man..." But instead he said, "One small step for man, one giant leap for all mankind" Which makes no sense. Forgot the "a" in front of "man".

darthgerber
darthgerber

Wasn't the Apollo 10 LEM officially named "Spider" and the command module "Gumdrop?"

panelshop
panelshop

Great piece of history Jay, as I said before, it's great to have you back. Cheers Geoff

Elezar
Elezar

Yeah, that's why he chose that particular name for the site. Jay's comment was to the point on why Armstrong would have given ANY name to the site at all.

Elezar
Elezar

Whenever someone mentions that no one knew about Tranquility Base, they NEVER give a citation for it. Considering that Armstrong, Aldrin, and Duke have been quoted about just about every tiny detail about the mission, I can't imagine no one can list an actual quote from Duke saying it was a surprise, unless it's not true. In Andrew Chaikin's book "A Man on the Moon", he states that Armstrong and Aldin did tell Duke, specifically so he wouldn't be confused by something he might not understand: 'For the landing, Armstrong gave some thought to quotes; before the flight he and Aldrin decided that if they reached the lunar surface they would use the call sign "Tranquility Base"--"base" to connote exploration. They told only Charlie Duke, lest the first words from the moon take him by surprise--"Say again, Apollo 11?" And when it finally happened, Armstrong found himself adding quite spontaneously, "The Eagle has landed."' --Andrew Chaikin, A Man on the Moon, Penguin (London 1998), p. 623 (Author's note to page 206). Unfortunately, Chaikin didn't really cite where his information came from either, but he interviewed just about everyone involved with Apollo for that book, and it's widely considered THE definitive book about the Apollo missions. So, with the lack of citations either way, I tend to believe Chaikin...

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

Of course I couldn't see squat because of the very high contrast narrow-band TV signal. Armstrong was probably a little too emotional at that point, and after all, not an actor. A minor muff in what he probably was too busy to rehearse can be forgiven. OK, OK, I played the download, You're right, no "a". I've gotta blow my brain out, now. Man, that's gonna hurt.

sboverie
sboverie

I heard the same thing about the missing "a". There was another possibility and that was the microphone was voice activated and when Armstrong said "a" it was not long enough to trigger the microphone.

almostfm
almostfm

"Gumdrop" and "Spider" were Apollo 9. Interestingly, NASA originally took away "naming rights" during the Gemini flights. After Grissom's Mercury spacecraft sank (nearly taking him with it), he christened his Gemini 3 spacecraft "The Molly Brown" (after the movie "The Unsinkable Molly Brown"). NASA decided that the names were getting too frivolous, and so they stopped using names and went with just mission numbers from Gemini 4 through Apollo 8. They only went back to naming spacecraft with Apollo 9, when they started having two craft on the same mission.

joethejet
joethejet

Amen, Love having Geek Trivia back!

Jay Garmon
Jay Garmon

And at some point I'm going to write a piece of alt-history fix where Armstrong reports "The haystack has landed!"

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

why he used a call sign for the location, and not for the craft.

Elezar
Elezar

And probably never will. Armstrong insisted for years afterwards that he had said the "a" and it either wasn't picked up or wasn't transmitted. In the past couple decades, he's backed off that stance a little, and says that he could have sworn he said it, but now he's not so sure. The flow of his words through "man" is smooth, and doesn't seem to cut out where the "a" would be (There is a fairly long gap after "man", which some people have speculated was because Armstrong realized he had messed up the line. Armstrong himself has never made this assertion, though). Some audio engineers have analyzed the tapes, and said that they have determined the "a" is there, just inaudible. However their methods were never peer reviewed, and other audio engineers have disputed their conclusions. And, if the problem really was that the word was too short to trigger the audio equipment, I don't get how it would have made it onto the tapes, anyway. Personally, I take the word of the man who said them, in the months after saying them. At that point, it still would have been fresh in his memory (Rather than his softer stance 25-30 years later). I understand that if he had screwed it up, he might not have wanted to admit to it, but everything I've read about the type of man Neil Armstrong was, makes me think that if he really did think he had said it wrong, he would have been the first to admit it. So, like I said, no one will ever know for sure, but in my mind, he said it the way it was meant to be said.

Elezar
Elezar

Actually, NASA took away the rights after the Mercury program. "Molly Brown" was an unofficial name for Grissom's ship. Some of the other Gemini's might have had unofficial ones as well, but the meaning behind "Molly Brown" would have made it more memorable than most, even without it being "official".

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

There is a short burst just before "man", but the duration is so short that there is no discernible diphthong, although the articulation loss is not bad for a 50 year-old analogue recording.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Politician Relations. Who wants grandstanding empty phrases, if not a politician? They should have kept the names, deciphering the meanings (or trying to) would have tied up a large amount of soviet intelligence resources.

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

...but they were a little too publicity conscious. But they felt that they needed the respect and goodwill of the people in order to justify the enormous budget. If they had only realized most of us wanted to beat the Soviets to the moon more than anything. The cold war was handled with almost as much priority as we did the *hot* wars: WWII, Korea, et c. Every perceived success was met with Presidential Speeches, Magazine spreads and Ticker Tape Parades. I pasted every news report on my bedroom wall.

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

embarrassing personal details about our Astronauts. (By the way, they found it).