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By Doug Millard on

What's In A Name?

What’s in a name? I ask with the new ‘United Kingdom Space Agency’ in mind. The ‘muscular’ new space agency was launched with a new punchy logo but, I fear, a rather weak name. We might shorten it to something pronounced UK-SAR or perhaps to a simple abbreviation reading YOO-KAY-ESS-AY.

Back in the 60s a fair chunk of UK space research was carried out at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE – pronounced AR-AY-EE) in Farnborough, Hampshire.

The Science Museum has many examples of the Establishment’s experimental work, which extended well beyond space endeavours like the Skylark rocket:

Skylark rocket launch
Skylark rocket launch (Science & Society)

To aviation research including the Concorde project and high altitude suiting:

Upper half of partial-pressure suit, ca. 1954
Upper half of partial-pressure suit, ca. 1954 (Science Museum/Science & Society)

And on to breakthrough technologies, like the strengthening of carbon fibre:

Oven for making carbon fibre, ca. mid 1960s
Oven for making carbon fibre, ca. mid 1960s (Science Museum/Science & Society)

But back to the RAE name itself, which substituted ‘Air’ with ‘Aerospace’ in 1988 then, as rationalisation and privatisation beckoned, ditched the whole caboodle in favour of DRA (Defence Research Agency), DERA (Defence Evaluation Research Agency) and finally to the present post-privatisation forms of QinetiQ – the company – and DSTL (Defence Science and Technology Laboratory) – a government agency… which brings us back to UKSA.

On April 1st 2010 UKSA takes over from BNSC (British National Space Centre) which had been coordinating the UK’s various space activities for over 25 years. Some say it was doomed because it lacked a dedicated budget or executive powers, but I suspect the main reason it was finally killed off was its lack of vowels: BNSC – try making a memorable acronym out of that…

Whereas NASA – whoa! Consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel, guaranteed to stick in the mind. That’s really how America got to the Moon – by perfecting the art of abbreviating and acronyming. They made a science of it.

Will UKSA achieve the same? Best ask how the following got on with the same letters: United Kingdom Sailing Academy; United Kingdom Skateboarding Academy and United Kingdom & Irish Samba Association … and there’s plenty more where these came from.

One comment on “What's In A Name?

  1. In the past any advanced British technologies have either been given to America, or cancelled at America’s request when there was any hint of profits. Can Britain catch up with the developed world on a tiny budget, and if we ever do, will it just be closed or flogged off at a bargain basement price to USA?

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