Naming Blunder of the Week: Ikaros Space Yacht

By Mark Skoultchi

April 29, 2010

I stumbled upon the exciting news of a new Japanese space yacht that will use sunlight-particle propulsion sails. This technology will help humans hop from planet to planet without fuel tanks. Holy crap, how awesome is that? A space ship that extends its shiny glossy, gossamer wings and rides the solar winds. Wow.

Then I saw the name of this new sunlight sailboat: Ikaros. Which stands for Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation of the Sun. One problem, Ikaros is a terrible name.

History lesson: Back in Greek times, Icarus (Latin: Ikaros) was the son of the inventor Daedalus. Daedalus created wings for he and his son to wear so that they could escape from their captivity. Some of the feathers were bound together with wax thread. Daedalus warned Icarus not to fly to close to the sun or the wax would melt. Icarus got bold and giddy with the exhilaration of flying, flew too close to the sun, and his wings disintegrated. He fell to the sea and drowned.

The “fall of Icarus” is moral parable that warns of the consequences of being overly self-confident. In short, a guy gets the power to soar near the heavens and in so doing, falls to his doom.

Does anyone else see the irony here? The Japanese are sending a first of its kind, sunlight-propelled space ship with hyper thin sails into the heavens. Since the moral of Icarus’ story is that he was foolish, fell from the skies, and failed, the association with this spaceship is embarrassing and a huge naming mistake.

The name of the spacecraft alludes to Icarus, the figure from Greek mythology who flew too close to the sun and fell into the sea, but Tsuda promised that “this Ikaros will not fly into the sun”.

I think Mr. Tsuda misses the point. The inference is not that the space yacht will fly into the sun. Rather, that the space yacht will fail in its mission and plummet to its doom.

Next time, maybe the Japanese should consult with the Greeks before they go naming their space yachts after Greek mythological characters. Or check with a naming firm, just to be on the safe side.

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