CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The name of the new vehicle that NASA hopes will take astronauts back to the moon was supposed to be hush-hush until next week.
But apparently U.S. astronaut Jeff Williams, floating 220 miles above Earth at the international space station, didn't get the memo.
Williams, through no fault of his own, let it slip Tuesday that the new vehicle's name is Orion.
"We've been calling it the crew exploration vehicle for several years, but today it has a name — Orion," Williams said, taping a message in advance for the space agency that was transmitted accidentally over space-to-ground radio.
NASA planned to reveal the new name Aug. 31, when the space agency also announces which contractor will build the vehicle. Competing for the award are Lockheed Martin and a team made up of Northrop Grumman and Boeing.
The crew exploration vehicle will replace the space shuttle program after it ends in 2010. Earlier this summer, NASA announced the names of the rockets that will propel the crew exploration vehicle and a cargo vehicle, respectively Ares I and Ares V.
"One of the things we get into at NASA is we run around and call things by technical names and acronyms," project manager Skip Hatfield told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "This allows us to have an identity that we can use."