Language of NASA: Breaking Down Acronyms One Letter at a Time

E-mail Maggie Lineback

A trip to the Johnson Space Center is a study in humility. While I am not lacking in confidence, in terms of intellectual superiority, when compared to the folks at NASA, I rank right up there with the common garden slug. Everyone here is not just smart, they're super smart. They all have four or five degrees. Their research interests include things I can't even pronounce, much less explain. Back in high school, they were the kids you were hoping to sit next to during an exam.

So not surprisingly, NASA folks don't talk like the rest of us. They have their own special language that is pretty much unintelligible to the uninitiated. You'll hear it if you watch the shuttle mission live or even check out the schedule of events online. For example, at 2:30 p.m. on NASA TV, you could watch the "OBSS handoff from SSRMS to SRMS." Popcorn, anyone? But if you miss that, there's always the "SSRMS install of ESP-3 on P3 truss."

For someone who's most active use of acronyms and abbreviations is confined to, say, "NATO" or "LOL," this sort of thing poses a bit of a challenge. Fortunately, there's help. The press packet they handed out has a section on NASA acronyms and abbreviations. It's 15 pages long, single-spaced. For example, look up “EVA” and you'll find out it's an ExtraVehicular Activity (Spacewalk). The “SSPTS” is the Station to Shuttle Power Transfer System (camper power hook up). So, if you see the phrase "SSPTS Reactiviation after EVA 1," that means the shuttle's going to reconnect to the Space Station so it can save gas.

Sure, you could say, "Enhanced Space Station Multiplexer/Demultiplexer" instead of "ESSMDM," but what fun would that be? And to be fair, every industry has its acronyms, even television. A reporter might e-mail a producer back at the station, "I have some great NATSOT (natural sound) to start off my PKG (package/story)," but NASA has taken this to a whole new level.

Maggie Lineback is a Dallas bureau producer.