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Even Seasoned Reporters Drawn Into the Excitement of Voyager 2 : Space Mission Inspires 3 Watchers to Adventure in Names

January 25, 1986|SCOTT HARRIS | Times Staff Writer

Susan Slater is a schoolteacher from British Columbia. Govert Schilling is publisher of a Dutch science magazine. John Graham is a Los Angeles free-lance writer.

And now, the Slater-Schilling-Graham proposal to christen the nine newly discovered moons of Uranus: Prospero, Rosamonda, Belinda, Puck, Ursula, Zephyretta, Brillante, Momentilla and Crispilla.

Catchy? William Shakespeare and Alexander Pope thought so. But the Nomenclature Committee of the International Astronomical Union, which determines such celestial names, will have the final say in renaming satellites now known as 1985U1-8.

A Source of Excitement

Even if their names are rejected, the group's proposal reflects the excitement at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory over Voyager 2's close encounter with the planet Uranus. Space junkies from throughout the world--from elite astronomers like Carl Sagan and James Van Allen to school teachers like Susan Slater to 300 journalists--have gathered to monitor Voyager's discoveries.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday January 26, 1986 Home Edition Part 1 Page 2 Column 1 Metro Desk 2 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
A story in Saturday's editions about spectators gathered at Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the Voyager 2 mission was accompanied by a photo of a man incorrectly identified as John Noble Wilford of the New York Times. The man was Thomas O'Toole of the Washington Post.

Wrestling with this melange is an enlarged JPL public relations staff, which is also laced with space junkies. Diane Lazurus, a teacher at Alta Loma Elementary School in Los Angeles, took a week's leave to assist in the pressroom. "It's just so exciting, and I can go back and tell my students about it."

The enthusiasm is such that when project scientist Ed Stone opened the conference with these words--"Just about two minutes ago, Voyager 2 passed through its closest approach to Uranus"--a ripple of applause ran through the standing-room-only crowd of ostensibly objective journalists.

An adversary role was not in evidence among the news people, who include two dozen television crews and scores of reporters from Europe and Japan. Frank Bristow, JPL spokesman, said it is the largest press gathering ever for coverage of an unmanned space mission, eclipsing Voyager 2's flyby of Saturn and Jupiter and the Viking landing on Mars.

First Time Thing

Not everyone joined in the applause, but even old hands at history-watching admitted to a thrill.

"Yeah, oh yeah," said New York Times science writer John Noble Wilford, covering his umpteenth space mission. "Gee, this the first time anybody has seen Uranus . . . (and) this has the futuristic aspect to it--interplanetary travel."

William Hines, 69-year-old Washington bureau chief of the Chicago Sun-Times, remembered his first mission. On Dec. 6, 1957, the spacecraft Vanguard lifted a few feet off the ground, lost thrust, succumbed to gravity and collapsed in a fiery heap. The first American attempt to put an object into space was "quite a sight," Hines recalled.

Hines, 69, did not join in clapping this time, but he remembered that, when the second U.S. space shot, Explorer 1, was announced a success, he let out a cheer.

Hines attributed the applause to "a lot of space groupies (who) want to come to this thing, and they get all kinds of crazy credentials. And they don't know proper conduct."

Rates as Correspondent

Slater, who is also president of the British Columbia School Teachers Assn., acquired press credentials as a correspondent for Canadian station CKVU-TV.

Then, sitting around one night talking with fellow junkies Schilling and Graham, they decided to research possible names. It just so happened that Graham had volumes of Shakespeare and Pope to serve as reference. The moons discovered before Voyager were named for characters created by Shakespeare and Pope.

They are good and logical names, Slater said. For example, one of the Uranus moons is named Miranda, for a character in Shakespeare's "The Tempest"; 1985U1 is closest to Miranda, and could thus be named for Miranda's father, Prospero.

Washington Post reporter Thomas O'Toole studied the Slater-Schilling-Graham proposal and objected to Puck. "They'll never name one Puck."

O'Toole had his own, less official, proposal. Why not name them for famous Moons on earth, he asked: There could be a Wally Moon, for the former Dodger; a Keith Moon, for the deceased rock drummer; a William Least Heat Moon, for the author, and, of course, a Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

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