Spaceflight Insider

OA-4 Cygnus spacecraft also named ‘Deke Slayton’?

Orbital ATK OA-4 Cygnus cargo vessel appears to also be named Deke Slayton. NASA photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Could the OA-4 Cygnus be named in honor of Deke Slayton as these images appear to suggest? Photo Credit: Dimitri Gerondidakis / NASA

Orbital ATK has taken to naming each of the firm’s Cygnus spacecraft after astronauts who have been involved with the company’s accomplishments. On Oct. 28, 2014, the “Deke Slayton” Cygnus with its Antares launch vehicle was lost about 12 seconds into its flight from Pad-0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island, Virginia. Recent images suggest the company may move forward in honoring the Apollo astronaut – on the next Cygnus flight.

The first Cygnus spacecraft to be sent aloft was named G. Davis Low – a NASA veteran who had logged more than 70 hours in orbit. This process continued with follow-on Cygnus vehicles being called C. Gordon Fullerton and the Janice E. Voss.

Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft being berthed to International Space Station NASA photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Each of Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft has been named after an astronaut that was involved with the company in one form or another. Photo Credit: NASA

As noted, the last Cygnus spacecraft (designation ORB-3) to take flight was named Deke Slayton after NASA’s Chief of the Astronaut Office and Apollo-Soyuz Test Pilot. Unfortunately, this craft never reached the International Space Station (ISS) as it was destroyed due to a likely failure of one of the rocket’s two Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ26 engines.

The newest Cygnus craft (OA-4) is being readied for flight at the ISS processing facility located at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The spacecraft was recently photographed loaded with equipment, supplies, and other cargo. In the images, small stickers can be seen with the name Deke Slayton. This suggests that the name of this craft could also be possibly named for the former astronaut.

This mission will be the fourth that Orbital ATK is scheduled to conduct under the $1.9 billion Commercial Resupply Services contract the firm has with NASA.

This particular Cygnus craft in an enhanced variant capable of better maneuvering as well as carrying more supplies and equipment. Instead of launching atop an Antares rocket, this mission will use a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 401 booster. Liftoff of the OA-4 mission is currently scheduled for Dec. 3, 2015, from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch window is 30 minutes starting at 6 p.m. EST (22:00 GMT).

Orbital ATK is also working to launch an enhanced version of the Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia as soon as March of 2016. This new variant of the rocket will see the AJ26 replaced by the RD-181 rocket engine.

It has been a long-standing tradition of the U.S. Space Program to name the launch vehicles and the spacecraft that carry people and cargo up from the Earth’s surface. The most famous of the NASA vehicles is ‘Eagle’, the lunar lander that took Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin from lunar orbit to the Moon. This tradition has it roots in the Navy where ocean-going ships would be named as a sign of good luck and fortune.

Perhaps another, more simple, explanation can be found in the science fiction television series Babylon 5, when the space station’s commander, Jeffrey Sinclair (played by the late Michael O’Hare), was asked why humanity had sought to build a fifth station after the prior four had been lost:

“[…] When something we value is destroyed, we rebuild it. If it’s destroyed again, we rebuild it again. And again, and again, and again – until it stays. That, as our poet Tennyson once said, is the goal: ‘To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.'”

United States of America Flag at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex photo credit Jason Rhian SpaceFlight Insider

Naming vessels in honor of important personnel is a long-standing tradition within the Navy. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider


Joe Latrell is a life-long avid space enthusiast having created his own rocket company in Roswell, NM in addition to other consumer space endeavors. He continues to design, build and launch his own rockets and has a passion to see the next generation excited about the opportunities of space exploration. Joe lends his experiences from the corporate and small business arenas to organizations such as Teachers In Space, Inc. He is also actively engaged in his church investing his many skills to assist this and other non-profit endeavors.

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