By Alan Boyle Science editor
updated 1/23/2004 11:05:40 PM ET 2004-01-24T04:05:40

This week’s Cosmic Log e-mailbag was filled with hundreds of messages about two topics in particular: flashier names for NASA’s yet-to-be-designed Crew Exploration Vehicle, and the controversy over the Pentagon’s Internet voting project, known as the Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment, or SERVE.

This is a doubleheader feedback file providing a selection of the messages on both topics, starting with the spaceship names. We’re not including the numerous votes for Enterprise and other “Star Trek” names, nor the votes for names related to the sci-fi TV show “Firefly,” such as Serenity. Click here if you want to jump down to the e-feedback about e-voting.

Nate Gehl:
There's only one appropriate name for the CEV: Phoenix. With the continuing flurry of private activity and the real chance of the X Prize being taken this year, this is NASA's last chance to reinvent itself and be relevant in the future.  For all intents and purposes, without a real purpose/vision/goal, NASA becomes a purely research shop disbursing funds to other agencies and to real explorers.  That's not necessarily a bad thing ... in a lot of ways, that would be what our founding fathers would have felt was the appropriate role of government.  The true tragedy would be for NASA to continue to stumble and fail and kill off the kinds of programs (and the occasional set of astronauts) that it can excel at (James Webb Space Telescope, etc.) to waste precious resources on what is rapidly becoming apparent it can no longer effectively do.

Staff Sgt. Carl W. Green, 101st Airborne, coming home soon:
Something similar to the Mercury and Apollo, which are male gods in Roman mythology. Gemini is the sign of the twins, and according to astrology is linked to Mercury, but Apollo is linked to what? There's your answer: Apollo's father, Jupiter, is the king of the Roman gods. If it's to be named like a shuttle that stays near the earth such as Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Endeavour and Atlantis, then let’s name it the Explorer. You never know, there could even be a Jupiter II for your “Lost in Space” fans.

Al Dupre, Camp Humphrey, Korea:
How about starting a precedent for naming space vessels after people, much as seagoing ships sometimes are?  Imagine flying into orbit in the "Charles Yeager," swapping ships at the space station, and then zipping off to the moon in the "Neil Armstrong."  A few months later you shove off for Mars in the "Daniel Boone." Something like "Artemis" might be mythologically appropriate, but is it as likely to strike a chord with the everyman who's paying the bills, or with the kids flying the next generation of spaceships?

Two astronaut names would work well for spacecraft names: Shepard for Alan Shepard ... Conrad for Charles "Pete" Conrad.

How about Project Shepherd? A way to honor the first U.S. astronaut in space (different spelling, same idea) and also descriptive of what it is intended to do guiding humans to Mars and beyond...

Christian Hannah, Newark, Del.:
My offer is "Everest" for the CEV. It has always been man's biggest challenge on land.  Is not Mars mankind’s Mount Everest of space.  Why go to Mars?  Because it is there.

Thomas Hancock:
Constitution. The name invokes two important pieces of American history, the USS Constitution and the document that spelled out a revolutionary new government based on freedom and liberty.  Like the USS Constitution, the new CEV should be strong, swift, and durable.  Like our system of government, it should be adaptable and inclusive of all people.

Tracy Worthington:
By using mythology or religion, somebody is bound to be offended. I think the naming should be based on city names for the CEVs. Longer-range craft bound to Mars should be named for planets initially. If we manage to get to the point where we have the Los Angeles, New York, Moscow, London, Tokyo, Beijing, etc., flying around in low Earth orbit ferrying people to and fro, as well as nine Solar Explorers,  the rest of the ships can have their naming rights sold to corporations. The core will be retired and hanging in the Smithsonian space garden. They should be named so that the cities on the ground will be remembered, not the USS Coca Cola. By using city names, it invites participation of all countries to fund their own spacecraft until we start selling the rights to large corporations to generate funds to save the failing adventure. …

Dave Doepner, Salt Lake City, Utah:
We need to find ways to get the public to bond with the space program.

Most everyone blew off mythology before they even finished the cover of Edith Hamilton's book.  Science-fiction stories and authors just appeal the geeks.  The names need to have a link to popular culture to allow that to happen.

If the vehicle is fast it could be a NASA-CAR, No. 3, "Earnhardt."

If it's big enough to carry several astronauts, it could be a "Winnebago" or a "Caravan," with the pilot being "Soccer Mom" rather than "Captain".  Bring the imagery down to earth.

Or how about just calling it "Bob" and letting folks come up with what the acronym stands for?

Any celebrity link would popularize it; "Pamela" would be a great name for the mother ship with all the storage space for food and fuel.  "Ruben" would be great for the vehicle with plenty of additional storage.  The control base needs to have a name that everyone would trust: "Uncle Walter" comes to mind.  And that little ship for just one or two people as they shuttle back and forth, just a tiny little thang could be "Tinkerbelle". 

I'm sure there could be some benefit in calling one of these high-powered vehicles a "Michael Jordan", but by the time it's ready to fly he will be history.  Let's call it a "LaBron."

Steve Shannon, Butte, Mont.:
At first I thought of the name "America." But then I realized that this craft represents much, much more than just our part of the planet. Greek and Roman mythology is meaningless to much of the world. I would like to see a new spacecraft named after our planet. How about "Terra"?

Doug Loss, Bloomsburg, Pa.:
If it turns into a typical NASA program, the proper name should be "Overbudget."  However, following in the vein of classical names, I propose that it be called "Phaethon," who tried to drive the sun-chariot, but could not control it.

Steven Goss, Lewistown, Pa.:
I would like to recommend the name Valiant 7. This would commemorate our fallen astronauts from the space shuttle Columbia. Valiant definition: brave, strong, courageous, resolute in spite of danger. I think Valiant 7 really describes the Columbia crew and would be a wonderful way of remembering them for years to come.

Josh A., Ottawa, Canada:
How about naming the new spacecraft "The Argo," like the ship Jason and the argonauts sailed on?

I'd strongly advise against naming the proposed vehicle project with pathos-filled names, like the proposed Ares, etc. The time is long overdue for finally getting some Model-T's or Beetles traveling to space. Robust, practical and simple. Above all, affordable.

As there's little hope for NASA and its usual partners for coming up with such a concept, it would be perfectly fitting to simply have a basic three-letter acronym moniker for the program, until the proposals by (hopefully many ) companies are put forth, and I'd let these companies to decide what names should their vehicles bear.

The entrenched idea that there should be one and only, "the" space vehicle design for a nation goes right to the root of problems with this nation’s space program. Something that Rand Simberg continuously points over at his weblog (like this post, for instance).

Ken McAvoy:
Here's a few names for the spaceships that come to mind:

  • United Spaceship of America (USA)
  • Waste of Time and Money (WOTM)
  • My Income from Social Security Entitlement Derailed (MISSED)
  • Diversionary Tactic Shuttle (DTs)
  • Custom Rocketing Apparatus Projectile (CRAP)
  • Who Cares (Who Cares)

Do I get anything if I win?

James Fleugel, Peachtree City, Ga.:
How about "Venture" as a name for the new moon/Mars program?  It's not overly sentimental.  But neither is it another stab at applying the already-overused Greek and Roman nomenclature.  It's a name that hasn't been used before in a major space or aviation project (unlike Voyager, which was a planetary mission and Burt Rutan's round-the-world aircraft, or many of the shuttle names that were also used by astronauts in Apollo: Columbia, Challenger, Endeavour).

Venture is the root of "adventure," but it also has a more grounded connotation of investment and collective progress, as in "venture capital."  If the Bush plan is carried out, there will be many spacecraft built that will no doubt get named by their crews (as were the Mercury and the Apollo CSMs and LMs).  Venture serves as a good name for summing up the entire program.

Kenneth Johns, Ooltewah, Tenn.:
NASA's problems began with its screwing of the American people over the Enterprise fiasco and will not end until NASA makes it right with them. Telling people after the vote that the Enterprise would never go to space was a huge mistake.  If NASA wants people to support it, it should name a ship Enterprise and flood the news services with reports of its flights into space.  Until it does this, I think NASA will continue to be shunned by the American public.

R.D. Hight, Kelso, Wash.:
If we're going to get all mythological, I suggest dubbing the CEV "Endymion."  Not only did he fall in love with the moon (appropriate on the face of it), but Zeus intervened to stop his suit, putting him into a long sleep (also accurate on a more edgy level, considering what the higher powers inflicted on our moon program).  Not earth-shattering, but not bad for yet another myth figure, either, I think.

Andy Walenga, Lewiston, Maine:
For the mission to Mars ... the Vonnegut.  Just watch out for that chrono-synclastic infundibulum.

Meinrad J. Schaan, Warm Springs, Ga.:
I think AESOP would be a good name for the advanced, exploratory, space-opening project that it is.  This may also satisfy all the skeptics who maintain that space travel is all fables.

Collier T. Weiner:
Xplor: Extraterrestrial piloted long-range orbital ride.

Dennis McClain-Furmanski, New Haven, Conn.:
I think it's time that the space program start honoring those who inspired us. I suggest the three configurations of the CEV be named Heinlein, Clarke and Asimov. Clarke would be the orbital configuration, due to his invention of geosynchronous communication satellites. Heinlein and Asimov would have to be evaluated for the moon and Mars configurations according to their writings. Individual missions in each configuration could be named for their major characters or ships from their stories.

If and when a Crew Return Vehicle or other primarily personnel shuttle is built, since these would in part be for emergency escape craft, these lifeboats should be named for those who gave their lives for the program. First three up: Grissom, White and Chaffee. Next, McAuliffe.

I've heard there's a superstition about naming ships after dead people. Seems to me that naming spaceships after famous old seagoing ships named in the traditional manner hasn't been particularly lucky. Maybe it's time we had our own traditions and luck.

Chris Mixon, Lafayette, La.:
Aircraft carriers are named for presidents.  Ballistic missile subs for states, and attack subs for cities.  Spacecraft should be named after those who have been there and stayed.  We can start with Grissom, Chaffee and White, and continue for what I hope is a very long time without having to add any more names.

Alan Boyle adds: Other nominations include Aurora (W. Derek Atkins); Triad (Byron L. Papp); Navigator and Caravel (Michael Huang); Spacebus (D. Yates); Conestoga (Rudolph Behrens); Reliance (Sandra Murphy); Zenith, Venture and Apex (John S. Pugliese). My apologies to those whose suggestions I’ve not been able to include.

Now for some of the feedback on e-voting:

M.D. Bush, Nashville, Tenn.
I think it would be very unhealthy for the country to go through another election debacle such as the one in 2000. Until e-voting can be verifiably tamperproof, I think the chance for another huge problem is too likely. The timing on this proposal is extremely poor and, frankly, it smells a bit fishy coming from the current administration.

Kris M., Boston:
What surprises me is that it is today (this day and age of the Internet and programming) that this is just becoming an issue.  After all, even my 89-year-old grandmother uses her computer to maintain her bank account, and my 6-year-old daughter learned to read, write and add after she asked for permission to turn on the computer and run the spelling program.  This is 2004, isn't it?

Lou Loizides, Norwalk, Conn.:
To understand how secure the SERVE system is, the government should offer a substantially high prize to anyone who can tamper with it in certain ways. I'm sure plenty of people will try.

Mike Hemeon, Clifton, N.J.:
The Internet was designed to be used in the event of a nuclear war so there would never be a "central location." The design is such that it never can be secure.

E-voting will open up all kinds of fraud that will be difficult to determine. Sites, including government sites, are hacked all the time by amateurs. If foreign states wish to get involved they can get into any site quite readily.

A foreign government, pick one, could be electing our officials over the Internet. Or voting on constitutional amendments, budget decisions, military issues.

There is no question that there is fraud going on now at the polls, but in my opinion e-voting should be scrapped now. E-voting is just what a terrorist organization ordered. Elect, maybe even plant, candidates that support their cause.

Americans rely on technology a bit too much. My opinion of e-voting is not now, not ever.

Val Prichodko, Aurora, Ill.:
E-voting is OK with me ... and will eventually happen sooner or later. Just make sure it has the bells and whistles installed, especially a paper receipt and a paper copy for validation by opposing party.

David Shepard, Fremont, Calif.:
If it can be developed, it can be hacked.  Developers think in a box of perceived hazards and countermeasures.  Hackers come from outside the box. Perhaps no election is ever truly honest.  However, traditional "hacks" leave a visible trail or witnesses.  Some electronic hacks could be self-deleting and (nearly?) undetectable after the fact. Also, many traditional hacks require a team of perpetrators.  The electronic hacks will be characterized by numbers of unconnected, lone perpetrators using different tactics.  It will only take one to be successful and undetected to change an election.

Glenn L. Ritter, Sheridan, Mich.:
With laws not even in order of this today's Internet technology, I believe it's too early to do anything but continue experimenting e-votes only on the side. Let’s wait until the economy lifts to normal and every voter in the country owns a home and a PC with an Internet connection in their home.

Gorman John Ruggiero, Wycombe, Pa.:
The very fact that I personally would not be able to look at results or talk personally with election personnel to see how they counted implies danger to our voting system. To trust the Pentagon with our civilian rights seems foolish at best. At worst, it conjures Orwellian images of spoon-fed mass brainwashing.  Please, give me the schoolteacher, the farmer, the milkman, the plumber to count my votes by hand, not the technerd in league with the military (which I am very proud of and support wholeheartedly) to oversee our most vital process.

W. Wahl, Oak Ridge, N.J.:
Internet voting will be the way to go after the problems of voting by telephone from one's home phone only are solved using caller ID technology. When technology, enabling the use of biometric instant identity confirmation, becomes available and is in widespread use in commerce on the Internet, its use in voting will become the norm. Meanwhile, registering one's voiceprint in person at a local government office and then using it from one's home phone only is a possibility in the more near future.

Reg. Vernon, Wolverhampton, England:
Bearing in mind the strong suspicions that the last presidential election was gerrymandered to elect Bush, there can be no confidence that organisations capable of subverting the democratic process could not do so again, and not be found out.  There is already evidence of computer fraud in election management, and if democracy is to survive we much jealously guard our civil rights and be more aware of such possibilities.

Alan Bell, Lagrange, N.Y.:
I think that if every bank in the United States can depend on secure applications for online banking, fund transfers and bill payment; and if millions of businesses and hundreds of millions of people can depend on secure Internet-based transactions evey day; that the assertion that "no system" could be acceptable is dubious at best. I'd ask some other "experts." Could any system possibly be compromised? Of course. Are the current systems perfect and without [vulnerability to] any potential tampering? Of course not.

Rick, Naples:
One of the worst possible ideas that will be taking fruit this year is e-voting. With the clear-cut risk of a hack ... or worse yet, a political conspiracy ... e-voting should not be done this year. Not until we can get the best of the best together and make a voting system that is the very best it can be. I mean, it's only your choice for the president of the United States!!! It's not like it important or anything!

Bob Mathley, Indianapolis:
I am against any voting method that has no audit trail.  People/politicians/political machines cheat; a valid recount method must exist for me to have any confidence in the system.  I am concerned with the existing state and effectiveness of "hacking" any trail that is put in place can itself be altered. Fix it before you use it!  The country does not need any electronic "hanging chads."

Finally, by my calculations the Pentagon has spent $220 per vote already.  That is ludicrous!  And they (military-industrial complex) expect us, the taxpayers, to believe they are good stewards of our money.  That is B.S., looks like they have found things more sophisticated than $400 toilet seats and hammers to waste our/their money on.  But as my old buddy P.T. Barnum once said, there is a sucker born every minute!  And it looks like Rummy has never met an "exciting program" he didn't like.

John D. Piacitelli, Lakewood:
When an "experiment" such as this could determine who will be president for the next four years, it should not even be considered. "Experiment" with the selection of a beauty queen, but not with a national election. Considering who runs the Pentagon right now and what party is in the majority in Congress, it is no wonder that such an experiment has been legislated. Improve the absentee ballot system and forget the experiment.

Micheal, San Francisco:
E-voting should not be scrapped. All these Internet security experts go on about how secure it isn't.  Well, not much voting is secure today anyways. I'm not even talking about missing ballots that occur all the time.  But I go to vote, I step up to the lady, tell her my name and which street I live on, that's it — end of security. Hell, anyone with a phone book could crack that security! Time to wake up and smell the ... coffee, folks. We need to start integrating e-voting if we ever want any chance to have a true form of democracy.

David Shallcross, Cranston:
The Internet has had several reports about the insecurity of electronic voting and the very close ties four companies developing the concept have to the Bush White House.  Every article explains how individual voting terminals can be monitored, altered, erased and otherwise tampered with from remote locations outside the polling areas.  Further, there will be no hard documents, so recounts will not be possible. The hanging chads of Florida (and other places) were physical documents and recountable.  At least the arguments about validity are over real, tangible evidence.  E-voting, like e-anything, is subject to all sorts of alterations, substitutions, deletions or challenges which will be impossible to monitor and subject to even more doubt on the part of candidates and voters alike.  Talk about the perfect vehicle for stealing elections without getting caught.  Despite all of the problems described in these many articles, the White House still wants it, and wants it badly.  Why?

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