Whether you’re European or American, your space agency needs you to help rename a spacecraft. Europe first; the ExoMars rover is approaching another milestone in its long and complicated story, and it’s still five years from launch. ExoMars – ESA’s first rover – is now due to launch in 2013, carrying a suite of instruments including several focussed on the search for life on the red planet. As designs progressed, it became clear that the only options were dramatically reducing the scope of the mission, or building a larger, more expensive rover that will launch on a larger rocket. Somewhat to my surprise, ESA went for the more ambitious option, but they still need the approval of the politicians later this year.
Speaking to BBC News Online’s Jonathan Amos, ESA boss Jean Jacques Dordain explained it needs a new name. Perhaps being more honest than he intended, he explained
I am asking [my officials] to find a different way to define ExoMars because if we say ‘this is ExoMars’, for most of the ministers it means ‘over-cost’. And this is not over-cost because we are not speaking at all of the same mission; it is a completely different mission. This is to try to make ministers understand that this is not over-cost.”
Let’s hope no politician in Europe reads BBC News Online. Meanwhile, NASA is asking the public to rename GLAST, the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope. Any ideas?