Monday, February 21, 2011

Space Shuttle Discovery, Names, James Cook, and a Little History

"How Did the Space Shuttle Discovery Get Its Name?"
Denise Chow, (February 21, 2011)

"Twenty-six years after its maiden flight, NASA's space shuttle Discovery towers majestically over the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center here, just days away from embarking on its final spaceflight to the International Space Station.

"Discovery, the oldest of NASA's space shuttles still in operation, is scheduled to launch Feb. 24 to deliver a new storage room, humanoid robot helper and critical supplies to the space station. The orbiter has made more spaceflights than any other in the agency's fleet, and over the course of its illustrious history, its name has become synonymous with the spirit of exploration and human spaceflight.

"So, where did the shuttle's designation come from?

"Discovery was partly named after one of two vessels used by British explorer James Cook during his voyages in the South Pacific in the 1770s. One of these journeys eventually led Cook to discover the Hawaiian Islands. Cook also navigated Discovery to explore the coasts of southern Alaska and northwestern Canada...."

Today's Discovery will carry a medallion from Britain's Royal Society: one struck in honor of Captain Cook. At least, that's the plan.

The Lemming is fascinated by language, names, and how they relate to the human experience: so this account of how ships used by James Cook and Henry Hudson are commemorated by a surface-to-orbit freighter is quite interesting.

To the Lemming. Your experience may vary.

As for Captain James Cook and his expedition: His ships made it back; he didn't. Resolution and Discovery left port in 1776, returning in 1780. Hawaiians killed him in 1779, during a disagreement. My guess is that it had to do with Cook's returning to repair a broken mast, after a breakdown in communications. Cook's decision to grab a Hawaiian in retaliation for the capture of a ship's boat probably didn't help. His hostage was a Hawaiian leader.

Look at it this way: say space aliens snatched the American president. The Secret Service would not take kindly to that. Which is about as close to hand-wringing as the apathetic Lemming will get today.

Which is another topic. Topics.

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