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The Naming of Space Shuttle Endeavour
Endeavour launching from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida

Space Shuttle Endeavour launches from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Image Credit: NASA

When students at McCall-Donnelly Elementary School suggested a name for NASA's newest orbiter, little did they know they were helping to name the shuttle that would one day carry one of their teachers into space.

Educator Astronaut Barbara Morgan taught at McCall-Donnelly in McCall, Idaho, for a total of 22 years before being selected as an astronaut in 1998. She is scheduled to fly on Endeavour -- the shuttle named by students -- this summer as part of the STS-118 shuttle mission. The crewmembers of the mission are commander Scott Kelly, pilot Charles Hobaugh and mission specialists Dave Williams, Richard Mastracchio, Tracy Caldwell, Barbara Morgan, and Alvin Drew.

McCall-Donnelly was one of more than 6,000 U.S. schools that participated in a NASA competition to name the newest shuttle orbiter in 1988. Led by Morgan's colleague Stephanie Murphy, the school's submission, "Endeavor," was a state-level winner in the elementary school division.

The national winners were Senatobia Middle School in Senatobia, Miss., in the elementary division and Tallulah Falls School in Tallulah Falls, Ga., in the upper school division. The national winners were selected based on the quality of the project submitted with their entries. They were honored at several ceremonies in Washington, D.C., including a White House ceremony where then-President George H.W. Bush presented awards to each school.

The NASA Orbiter-Naming Project was part of a congressional resolution initiated by Congressman Tom Lewis of Florida. The resolution mandated that the nation's fifth orbiter be named by students because of the outpouring of concern from students after the Challenger tragedy. The competition was developed by NASA's Education Division and administered by the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Cover of the book From Ship to Shuttle

NASA Education published the book "From Ship to Shuttle" about NASA’s student competition to name the nation’s fifth orbiter. Image Credit: NASA

The competition was open to K-12 students enrolled in U.S. public and private schools. Interest was high. NASA received 6,154 entries, representing more than 70,000 students.

Students could not suggest just any name. It had to be that of an exploratory or research sea vessel, be appropriate for a spacecraft, capture the spirit of America's mission in space, and be easy to pronounce for radio transmission. A required classroom project challenged students to research their suggestion from historical, scientific, technical and artistic perspectives.

Entries included an essay about the name, the story behind it and why it was appropriate for a NASA shuttle, and the project that supported the name.

Endeavour was the most popular entry, accounting for almost one-third of the state-level winners. The Endeavour was a ship belonging to the British Royal Navy. In their entries, students focused on the vessel’s first voyage under the command of seaman and scientist James Cook in 1769-71. Cook steered Endeavour to Tahiti in the South Pacific to observe and record the rare event of the transit of Venus, a celestial event that allows observers on Earth to see Venus passing across the face of the sun.

Students drew parallels between astronomy on Cook's Endeavour and on the space shuttle; the payloads of medicine, science and commerce that were on both the ship and shuttles; and the make-up of the crews, both of which included scientists.

A patch shows a ship, a shuttle and the names of the crewmembers

The mission patch for STS-49, Endeavour's first flight, features Captain James Cook's ship Endeavour for which the orbiter was named. Image Credit: NASA

Former NASA Educational Programs Officer Muriel Thorne managed the competition. She was also editor of a book about the competition, "From Ship to Shuttle," now out of print. Thorne said the national-level judging was based on the quality of the students' projects. Thorne and other NASA judges narrowed the choices to three finalists: Endeavour, Horizon and North Star. The final decision to name the orbiter Endeavour was made by then-President George H.W. Bush, based on recommendations by the NASA administrator.

The winning schools were recognized in the patch design for STS-49, Endeavour's first flight. The STS-49 crew chose to include the schools' colors on the flags of Endeavour's masts.

Endeavour was launched for the first time on May 7, 1992. Its most recent flight was STS-113 in 2002. STS-118 will be the spacecraft's 20th flight.

Through competitions like the Orbiter-Naming Project, NASA continues its tradition of investing in the nation's education. To compete effectively for the minds, imaginations and career ambitions of America's young people, NASA is focused on education efforts that encourage the pursuit of disciplines critical to NASA's future engineering, scientific and technical missions.

Related Resources
NASA's Orbiter Fleet
Shuttle Endeavour Overview
NASA Education Web Site   →

Heather R. Smith/NASA Educational Technology Services