July 4, 2006
Ares Spacecraft Has a Martial Name
Naming, be it product naming, or creating a brand name, or company naming for that matter, can have unintended consequences. That appears to be the case with NASA’s spacecraft naming.
NASA insists, however, that in naming its new exploratory spacecraft the Ares I and II, it had no desire to invoke the concept of war and destruction. They found that Ares is the Greek equivalent of Roman Mars and decided it was a fitting name for spacecraft the final destination of which is the fourth planet.
Did the researchers at NASA forget, then, that Mars was the Roman god of war, and that its red color was reminiscent of blood to those who first named it? I think they may have.
Admittedly the Roman god Mars was a far more respectable deity than Greek Ares, but then again, the Romans were justly proud of their military might. They created a successful and generally well-run empire, while Greek wars tended to be internecine and leave everyone involved unequivocally worse off.
Because most of us in the modern world are introduced to Mars as the proper name of a planet before we learn any mythology, we don’t automatically associate the name with aggression. And it may be that the general public doesn’t associate much with the name Ares, except perhaps to confuse it with the astrological sign Aries.
But I think checking with a few classicists about a proposed name isn’t rocket science. I think it’s disingenuous of NASA to claim ignorance about the connotations of “Ares.”
Rockets can be and have been named after planets before (think of the Saturn series), so this isn’t like the Nyx/Nix case I recently blogged about. If they wanted a peaceful name for a Moon-Mars rocket, they could have chosen Selene, the Greek lunar deity. They didn’t.
And, I for one don't find it reassuring.
Note also that NASA is confusing matters with another pair of projects called ARES: a proposed Mars mission, dubbed Aerial Regional-scale Environmental Survey of Mars, and an office called Astromaterials Research & Exploration Science.
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