Robert Pearlman is the editor of the space history news site collectSPACE.com, a SPACE.compartner. He contributed this article to SPACE.com's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
Should NASA's Ames Research Center in northern California be renamed to honor Sally Ride, America's first woman in space?
The news that Congress has renamed NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center for the late first moonwalker Neil Armstrong got me thinking: If NASA were to name its centers today, who would the space agency honor?
I think a clear case can be made that Kennedy and Johnson space centers in Florida and Texas, respectively, would retain their names for the roles those two presidents played in Apollo. Robert Goddard is known well enough for his leading role in early rocketry to also continue serving as the Maryland center's namesake.
The John H. Glenn Research Center in Ohio and the newly designated Armstrong Research Center in southern California would also likely rank on any list drafted today (considering they were renamed such in recent years).
I am not sure you can say the same for NASA's Ames (Research Center), Marshall (Space Flight Center in Alabama) or Stennis (Space Center in Mississippi). Do they deserve their honors? Absolutely. Would they make the short list if being decided today, with the benefit of 50-plus years of NASA history to consider? Probably not.
I recognize and even agree with the sentiment that once a place is named it should keep its name. But it's clear by the Armstrong renaming that the majority of Americans — or at least majority of American lawmakers — do not feel the same way. Though anecdotal, most of the comments I have seen on Facebook and Twitter have applauded the decision.
So that circles back to Sally Ride.
NASA has a handful of astronauts who have become household names. John Glenn and Neil Armstrong — and Sally Ride — are among them.
NASA Ames was named after Joseph Sweetman Ames, a physics professor and former president of Johns Hopkins University. He served as the chairman of NACA, NASA's predecessor, from 1919 through 1939. He died in 1943, so he didn't live to see or contribute directly to NASA's activities.
NASA Glenn and NASA Armstrong already establish the case for a NASA Ride by honoring astronauts who distinguished themselves in the space agency's history.
Furthermore, the Sally K. Ride Research Center would be the first NASA center named after a woman, advancing Ride's own role in life inspiring young women to pursue careers in science, math, engineering and technology (Ride died in July 2012).
Ride has a connection to NASA Ames as well: the center would annually host Sally Ride Science Festivals organized by Ride and her company, Sally Ride Science.
To be clear, I am not necessarily advocating for this renaming, but rather asking the following: If renaming centers is something that is going to be done (and Congress has opened that door with NASA Armstrong) doesn't Ride merit that honor?
The author invites comments and responses to this op-ed be posted to the collectSPACE forum. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on SPACE.com.
Editor's Note: This story was updated to reflect a correction on Jan. 16 at 2:35 p.m. EST. Stennis is located in Mississippi, not Missouri as stated earlier.