A catchy NASA acronym could lead to restrooms on Mars

(It’s my turn over at Long Awkward Pause today, where I was asked to give an update on NASA’s space program for 2015. What I discovered may shock you. Particularly if you’re reading this while wearing a wool sweater and corduroy pants…)

image When NASA director Dr. Charles F. Bolden Jr. said that this year’s mission selection process was the most difficult session in more than two decades, it got me thinking:

I wonder how Barbara Eden is doing?

After a quick Google search found her alive and well, a second thought crossed my mind:

What is the criteria for giving a space mission the green light nowadays, especially in this era of cutbacks? And, perhaps more importantly, how do they manage to come up with such cool acronyms for each one?

After calling the NASA hotline and engaging its new automated information system known as Orbital News History and Official Lunar Development (ONHOLD), I eventually spoke with an actual Programs Education and Research Specialist Operator for Newspapers (PERSON).

It was during this conversation that I discovered the frightening truth. For many years NASA utilized a two-step process in determining its mission programs. This process involved having someone from the automobile industry submit the name of a new sport utility vehicle — Voyager, Odyssey, Explorer, Pathfinder, Contour — then force NASA scientists and astrophysicists to design a mission to go along with it. (Continue reading…)