The Co-Host vs. The System

Dear Audience,

I need your assistance.  During the Daytona Vodcast, I was asked to name the model sitting in front of me on the set (see picture below.)  I answered confidently, “The Space Shuttle.”  My colleagues immediately corrected me.  It is, in fact, the Orbiter.

Something wasn’t right about the entire exchange in my mind.  Yes, the model displayed is the Orbiter – part of the overall “system.”  Yet, even the model base referred to the model as the Space Shuttle (see picture below.)  Chris said, “The base is wrong.”

The whole thing felt more like being asked our nation’s colors, answering red, white and blue, and being told that I am wrong.  Our colors in fact are scarlet red, cloud white, and navy blue.  

So, like a good outsider, I did some research.  It looks like NASA refers to the Orbiter as the Space Shuttle on occasion (see links below.)  In fact, they seem to use the terms interchangeably.

I presented this reality to Chris and Franklin on our most recent Vodcast.  It was not good enough for them.  They want your input on this matter.  So, please examine the evidence below and ask yourself the following question.  If NASA uses the terms Space Shuttle and Orbiter interchangeably, is it fair to castigate the Co-Host for doing the same thing?

Pics from recent Vodcasts:

Blair Practices his own EVA.  Credit: Blair Allen

The Base speaks for itself.  Credit: Blair Allen

in the landing section at the bottom of the page, “Learn where all the best vantage points for viewing shuttle launched in Brevard County, Fla. And get tips for viewing a shuttle landing.
Here again, the Discovery is referred to as the Shuttle when discussing landing.  Earlier in this post, it is mentions specifically as the Orbiter.  Again, the use seems to be interchangeable.
Again, the use seems to be interchangeable.

Not just landing…
Here the photograph description refers to the “Space Shuttle Discovery’s payload bay.”
The Space Shuttle Discovery eased into port…”
The ISS and Space Shuttle Discover have parted ways…”

Visual evidence:

Notice that the text says, “Space Shuttle” rather than “Orbiter.” Credit:

Outside Evidence:

I am not listing any sources here.  The overwhelming evidence for my case is on the outside.  Have you ever heard the regular news agencies refer to an “Orbiter Docking” or an “Orbiter Landing?”  I haven’t either.  

So, let me know if it is reasonable for me to follow NASA’s example or go with Chris and Franklin.  My fate is in your hands.

The Co-Host

30 thoughts on “The Co-Host vs. The System”

  1. “The Space Shuttle Orbiter”… To call it “The Orbiter Space Shuttle” just sounds wrong. Space Shuttle is such a broad term its used to describe the hole thing. But the Orbiter is just basically similar… Wikipedia states an Orbiter does not land. But if it is the name, it would not really matter.

    I’d say that when it’s in space flying around the planet then it could be stated … The Orbiter is Orbiting or … The Shuttle Orbiter is Orbiting, it’s easy to see which is better here I’d think.

    “During the descent and landing, the shuttle orbiter acts as a glider,…”

    I went over to Wikipedia…

  2. I don’t know, Blair. If you go to the Shuttle Reference Manual:

    You find the following statement:

    “The Space Shuttle system consists of four primary elements: an orbiter spacecraft, two Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB), an external tank to house fuel and oxidizer and three Space Shuttle main engines.”

    I didn’t look through the ENTIRE manual, but I do know that the term orbiter is used consistently throughout the sections that I checked.

  3. James,

    First, I never disputed that the model displayed is part of the overall system and that that part is called the orbiter. The issue is that NASA, in picture, text, and video refers to the orbiter on many occasions as the Shuttle (see evidence posted.) So when I see the model of the orbiter and call it the Shuttle, I may technically be wrong. Yet, NASA makes the same technical mistake all the time. Therefore, we can conclude one of two things. Either NASA thinks the technical distinction isn’t important enough to worry about with regard to sharing the narrative details of a Shuttle Mission, or both NASA and I are wrong.

    The Co-Host

  4. Blair,

    The NASA Correspondence Management and Communications Standards and Style document (NPR 1450.10D) doesn’t really help things, either. I’m still digging to see if there is a definitive answer. This could turn out to be very interesting!

  5. For me it looks like to be typical human problem. At the beginning there was a definition of teh space shuttle system including all the components also the orbiter. So from this technical point of view calling the orbiter space shuttle would be wrong.
    But humans make things easy and do not care about technical definition go on the streets and ask for what is the orbiter and what is the space shuttle.
    Most people will know the space shuttle but not the orbiter.

    This means by human majority you are right and technicaly you are a little bit wrong :).
    And as your audience are normal people you only did your job referring to things that your audience understand. So you use your possibility to reach a large audience. And the more technicall people will forgive you :).

    Best regards from Kalrsuhe Germany

  6. Blair,

    Okay — during my research I found one (count ’em — one) web citation that may give you what you need. The website in question made mention of Robert Crippen (then head of Space Shuttle Operations) authorizing the use of the term Space Shuttle to describe the Orbiter in NASA documents. That would have been in 1991. If you can find the memo containing that information, I think you may have a leg to stand on. It’s up to you to follow through on this, since you have access to “all things NASA.” Good hunting!

    P.S. I think you at least owe me a NASA EDGE hat if this pays off for you. 😉

  7. I agree that “shuttle” and “Space Shuttle” are acceptable substitutions for “orbiter” to describe this segment of the Space Transportation System (STS).

    NASA’s goal of brining science, technology, and engineering to a broader audience is not helped by nit picking on these terms when the agency has openly confused the terms through countless documents.

    It is good to distinguish between the terms and present examples of how technical communication can be unraveled when imprecise terms are used, but in this case, give a guy a break.

    I enjoy the show. I watch it through my subscription to the NASAcast Video podcast. Not only can I watch when I want, I can also carry the program with me in my iPhone and share with school children as well as co-workers. Keep up the great work. I always enjoy seeing a new NASA Edge episode in my queue.

  8. Jack – Thank you for letting us know that you download our vodcasts on your iPhone to share with kids and co-workers. Our next vodcast will be an NE@ segment on a Lunar Inflatable Hab concept. Hopefully we’ll release the segment in a couple of weeks.

    All the best,

  9. I think it’s the orbiter when you look at is as part of the STS. But the name for it is just the space shuttle. It does the actual shuttling. The boosters and external tank are just there to get the shuttle into space.

  10. My point of view goes along with Wim.

    By looking at the way NASA uses Space Shuttle and Orbiter, we can understand they refer respectively to a general name and a technical name. In fact, each orbiter is named in two parts : Space Shuttle and a second name (Discovery, Endeavour, …). Just like a Family name and a First name. Technically, you would call it an orbiter, as you would call Hubble a telescope, or a Dodge a car (correct me if I am wrong on this comparison). But among all those orbiters, you have those who are called “Space Shuttle”.

    So who is wrong, who is right? You are both right. But you are wrong not to agree with Blair.

    Cheers from France!

  11. The essence of good communication is this: Did the listener understand what you meant? As long as the listener understands what you meant, I don’t care if you call it “Dorf”. Communication is 100% contextual.

    Now with that said, there are times when precise language is required, which is why – internal to NASA – we tend to make the distinction between a Space Shuttle and an Orbiter.

    So for those who get a little excited about the distinction, I think Sergeant Hulka said it best when he said, “Lighten up, Francis.”

  12. Blair my man, you’ve done your research and have it in print. You have proven your argument that technically, it is an orbiter but is often called shuttle by NASA as well. You are right and this should qualify you for a promotion. If Chris and Franklin say you are wrong then they must admit that NASA has been wrong on numerous occasions as well.

    Now, can you score me a NASA EDGE cap?

  13. I have to support Blair here. As much as I cringe when folks call it the shuttle when it’s just the Orbiter, all the evidence supports the use of the term shuttle. Even astronauts in interviews use the term shuttle when they are in orbit.

    And Blair, just tell Franklin, “yes, two wrongs don’t make a right, but two Wrights make an airplane”. 😀

  14. The best analogy to think of would be an ELV launch. After staging event, the upper stage and payload are still called “Atlas V” by the mission control, even though the stage that is left has a unique name called Centaur. Once a component is dropped, it is no longer part of the system, and as the orbiter is the only part of the STS remaining after MECO/ET jettison, it would be correct to use the term space shuttle.

    However it really is a matter of semantics, as the use of the term “Space Shuttle” is not the official name. Therefore as an informal name use it however is necessary.

  15. I would have to agree with you Blair. I work for the Idaho Press Tribune and we refer to the shuttle as the space shuttle. I have always heard nasa refer to it with both names but in our paper we refer it to the Space Shuttle. Well thank you all and like always I will be watching for the next showing. Thank you Ryan Fackrell

  16. It’s been called “The Space Shuttle” by Nasa, astronauts, the President, news readers, and most people since before there was a Space Shuttle.

    To say that “no, it’s not the Space Shuttle, it’s called the Orbiter, officially,” denies this history. There is no denying that the Orbiter is called “The Space Shuttle”, even if some consider the name to be a de facto adoption.

  17. This is too easy. It is both a shuttle and an orbiter.

    When the vehicle is going up or coming down, it is “Shuttling” people back and forth.

    But when it is actually on station, it is “Orbiting” the planet.

    = Dan =

  18. The semantic common ground we seem to be seeking is a simple one. Space Shuttle is a common name, commonly used by both official agencies and us common folk on the outside. Orbiter is a formal title for the spacegoing aircraft (or airworthy spacecraft) know as the space shuttle. Orbiter is used primarily by official government agencies as it sounds much more technical and worthy of the billions invested in it.

    In the old days of Mercury, the spacecraft came to be known as a capsule by both agency and civilian alike. It was also known as a spacecraft by many at the time.

    Interchangeable terms? You bet. Let’s find something more worthy to debate! Like, maybe, were the contents of dippin dots really backwards engineered from that Roswell incident?

  19. Hi guys, It’s me the girl with the golfball on the moon idea. How about this? Since NASA and its technologies has effected all of our lives, especailly for me growing up in south Florida. Prior to the 11/14/08 launch I called the local T.V. stations and asked to see more coverage of launches. Today I called again and proposed the idea that with all of the negitive and depressing news,economy ect. that the ONLY place that we feel proud to be American is thru the accomplishments of NASA. And that it would be very benificial to moral to have a NASA Moment in the news each nite. A reminder to American’s of all the good that surrounds us as a result of NASA. From everyday things that we take forgranted to new ideas and discoveries. Feel Good Stories are much needed in today’s troubled times. I contacted wsvn-channel 7 and Local 10 Broward County. They seemed intrested. A NASA MOMENT each day helps me to say I’m Proud to be an American. What do you think? After all it’s your 50th Anniversary what better time to start? I would love to be part of something like this. Call me 800-273-0979 9-5pm m-fri.

  20. “shuttle or orbiter, that is the question” Although the shuttle orbits the earth, It’s only to gain altitude to transport people and equiptment to the real orbiter. The ISS like the moon remains in constant orbit around the earth. Therefore the shuttle is properly named for it’s job. And the Space Station is a true Orbiter. By my logic it just makes sense. And of course much congrats. to ELON MUSK of SPACE X as the next generation of space transport and exploration. We’ll be watching. Thank you NASA EDGE for all that you bring to the party.

  21. “wow it is really great sir, i got a great information i am really impressed thank you”

    Note – We are unable use external links (ads, spam, etc…) due to NASA rules and regulations.


    The Co-Host

  22. Shuttle vehicle or that “question the shuttle orbits the Earth, the only transport people and equiptment to the real height of the orbit is achieved. The moon in orbit around the Earth keeps the ISS the shuttle properly so called. This job and space station orbiting a true argument, it just makes sense to me .. and of course congratulations to the space X Elon Musk. as the next generation of space transportation and exploration. we’ll be seeing you all Dnywadtum NASA’s edge to the party.

    Note – We are unable use external links (ads, spam, etc…) due to NASA rules and regulations.


    The Co-Host

  23. I appreciate NASA’s effort in posting this blog. though i’d like to make a suggestion. how about the expenses made in a training and the actual orbiting outside our planet. i think its just fair to let people know how much we are talking here when it comes to projects like NASA’s having.

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