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Air & Space

How Schoolchildren Named NASA's Space Shuttle Endeavour


NASA's space shuttle Endeavour heads to the launch pad for its final mission, STS-134, while bathed in bright xenon spotlights on March 10, 2011 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Endeavour will fly its 25th and last mission during the STS-134 flight. (NASA TV)

Of all NASA's space shuttles to fly in orbit, only Endeavour -- the youngest in the fleet -- received its name in the most unusual way: It was the only shuttle name selected by children.

The fifth and newest of NASA's shuttles, Endeavour was named in a national competition involving students in elementary and secondary schools. The competition began in 1988 and the winning name was announced on May 10, 1989. Students were asked to pick a name based on an exploratory or research sea vessel that had previously sailed.

Other requirements that students had to consider when selecting a possible name were that it had to be appropriate for a spacecraft and had to capture the spirit of America's mission in space. NASA also wanted a name that would be easy to pronounce clearly over radio transmissions. [Photos: Shuttle Endeavour's Last Mission]

Each school's entries included an essay about the name, the story behind it and why it was a perfect fit for the new shuttle. Endeavour was hands down the most popular entry, accounting for almost one-third of the state-level winners.

"The original Endeavour was a ship commanded by an 18th century British explorer named James Cook," Kylie Clem, a representative for the space shuttle program at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, told Life's Little Mysteries, a sister site to

On its maiden voyage in 1768, Cook, who was also a scientist, sailed the Endeavour into the South Pacific and around Tahiti to study and record the passage of Venus between the Earth and the sun. This rare celestial event allows observers on Earth to see Venus passing across the face of the sun. During another portion of his journey, Cook navigated the Great Barrier Reef and discovered New Zealand. [Most Memorable Space Shuttle Missions]

Senatobia Middle School in Senatobia, Miss., was the national winner in the elementary division, while the Tallulah Falls School in Tallulah Falls, Ga., was the national winner in the secondary school division. Then-President George H.W. Bush presented awards to each school during a ceremony at the White House.

The "u" in Endeavour's name has caused some confusion, but "Endeavour is spelled that way because that's how the British ship that it's named after was spelled," Clem explained.

The name's spelling even caused a mix-up on the Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on July 2007.

In anticipation of the shuttle's arrival to the pad for its Aug. 7, 2007, launch, officials hung a large banner reading "Go Endeavor!" and posted a photo of the sign on the Kennedy Space Center's website. Once they realized that the sign was missing a "u," NASA personnel hurried to take down the banner from the seaside launch complex and replace it with one that had the correct spelling.

Houston, we have a misprint.

  *   Shuttle Mission STS-134: Endeavour's Final Journey
  *   How Much Are NASA's Space Shuttles Worth?
  *   The Most Memorable Space Shuttle Missions

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