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Why do they call it that? Space shuttle final flight edition

9:48 AM, Jul 6, 2011   |    comments
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It's hard to believe the final flight is Friday. America's space shuttles have inspired us for 30 years now. But their names go back much further than that.

Why do they call it Space Shuttle Endeavour?

This newest ship in the fleet was built partly from spare parts to replace Space Shuttle Challenger.

All of NASA's space shuttles were named for sailing ships. Endeavour has a "u" in its name because its oceangoing namesake was British.

HMS Endeavour checked out events in the starry sky and explored New Zealand, Australia, and the Great Barrier Reef.

After retirement, Endeavour will go on display in Los Angeles at the California Science Center.

Why do they call it Space Shuttle Atlantis?

The next shuttle, going from newest to oldest, is Atlantis. It's named for a research vessel -- R/V Atlantis -- the first American ship built entirely for ocean science.

This shuttle orbiter will stay put and be the star of a major new $100 million exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Why do they call it Space Shuttle Discovery?

A huge hangar inside the space center is home to the next-oldest ship, Discovery.

Four sailing ships named Discovery are honored with this space shuttle's name. They sailed to the four corners of the globe (if it were possible for a globe to have four corners).

Ships named Discovery led expeditions to Hudson Bay in Canada, to find the Hawaiian Islands, and then up to the North Pole and south to Antarctica.

Discovery is being prepared for retirement at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum in Washington.

Why do they call it Space Shuttle Challenger?

Despite its tragic destruction in 1986, Challenger's name has an uplifting origin.

HMS Challenger was a British warship that was turned over to the geeks of the 1870's.

All but two if its guns were yanked out and replaced with labs, microscopes, and other tools. Its research mission covered almost 80,000 miles of ocean.

Why do they call it Space Shuttle Columbia?

Columbia was the first shuttle to fly, in 1981. And its namesake was the first American ship to sail around the world, nearly 200 years before.

The capsule that brought Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin home from the moon was also called Columbia.

Sadly, this shuttle was also destroyed, during reentry, in 2003.

Why do they call it Space Shuttle Enterprise?

Let's not forget Enterprise. This test shuttle never flew in space.

It was supposed to be named Constitution, for the US Navy's oldest ship -- USS Constitution or "Old Ironsides." But sci fi fans won out!

After a letter-writing campaign by fans of the Star Trek TV show, NASA decided to name the shuttle after Captain Kirk's Starship Enterprise.

Actors from the show even came out for the shuttle's unveiling.

Why do they call it that? Now you know.

Join us for special coverage Thursday night, live from Kennedy Space Center. We'll look in-depth at the final flight of the shuttle program.

We'll also have astronaut interviews and a tour inside a shuttle. That's Thursday night at 7 p.m. on 10 News.

We feature new "Why do they call it that?" stories each Wednesday on 10 News at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Check out previous editions of the Emmy-nominated series at our "Why do they call it that?" website:

Grayson Kamm, 10 News

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