First came the “maggots”. Then the less specific “bugs”. Now the latest infestation has been identified that will take over NASA’s Astronaut Bureau.
Welcome “The Flies”. (opens in new tab)
“It’s official, our class is called ‘The Flies’!” Marcos Berríos, a member of NASA’s newest group of astronaut candidates, wrote on Instagram (opens in new tab).
Following a tradition dating back to NASA’s first class of astronauts, who adopted the nickname “The Original Seven,” the naming of NASA’s 23rd group of space trainees marks a milestone in their journey to qualifying for mission assignments. However, unlike the Mercury astronauts, the “Ascans” of 2021 were not free to name themselves, as another custom dictates.
“Each NASA astronaut class has traditionally been given a name by the other classes,” explained Anil Menon, a member of The Flies, in his own post on Instagram (opens in new tab) on Tuesday (April 5).
Related: NASA announces 10 new astronaut candidates for future space station and lunar missions
The four women and six men selected by NASA (opens in new tab) reported to Johnson Space Center in Houston in December 2021 to begin two-year undergraduate training (opens in new tab) in January. Her class was also joined by the two members of the second class of astronauts from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). (opens in new tab)increasing the number of “flies” to 12.
In addition to Berríos and Menon, The Flies include: Nichole Ayers, Christina Birch, Deniz Burnham, Luke Delaney, Andre Douglas, Jack Hathaway, Christopher Williams, Jessica Wittner, Nora Al Matrooshi and Mohammad Al Mulla.
“We have 12 flies from different countries, fighter pilots, helicopter pilots, civilians, military, engineers and medics,” Menon said. “Diversity…makes us stronger in adversity.”
But why “The Flies”?
Recent tradition has it that the nickname chosen by the preceding class has a double meaning, allowing it to be adopted by the new candidates as a title to connect and collect, while at the same time being a little pejorative.
“There were a lot of great flies. There was Super Fly. Michigan’s Fab 5 was pretty flying. MJ knew how to fly,” Menon wrote, citing the title character from a 1972 film, the star player of an early 1990s college basketball team and former NBA legend Michael Jordan. “I couldn’t be more excited to be part of this Fly team.”
But that’s not what the members of Group 22, elected in 2017, had in mind – at least not entirely.
“The previous class, ‘The Turtles,’ suggested various reasons for the name,” Berríos said. “Maybe it’s because they think we’re ‘super flies’ or because turtles eat flies. Maybe they want us to fly into space one day, or maybe because flying is a nuisance.”
“Perhaps it is because flies serve as an important scientific model in space,” added Berríos, “although they also alluded to the exquisite diet of flies!”
“The Turtles” also had a similar shared meaning for their nickname (opens in new tab). They were a little green and a little shocked when they were chosen, but together they also weathered the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey within a week of arriving.
“The Flies” are the third class of astronauts to be given an insect-inspired nickname. The tenth group of NASA trainees selected in 1984 were “The Maggots”. Sixteen years later, “The Bugs” joined the Corps.
“This name was inspired by the ‘Millennium Bug’ – the widespread concern in 1999 that computers would crash and end life as we knew it when the calendars transitioned from 1999 to 2000,” wrote Nicole Stott, member of ” The Bugs”. in her book, Back to Earth: What Living in Space Taught Me About Our Home Planet—And Our Mission to Protect It (Seal Press, 2021).
“While intended to be playfully derogatory, the name could have been worse,” she wrote. “We’ve embraced ours; after all, most bugs have wings and can fly. The one thing all astronauts want to do is fly.”
Other previous Astronaut class nicknames included “The Hairballs”, “The Hogs”, “The Flying Escargot”, “The Sardines” and “The Penguins”. “The Peacocks” were selected in 2004, “The Chumps (opens in new tab)‘ in 2009 and ‘The 8-Balls (opens in new tab)” In 2013.
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose would smell so sweet in any other name,” wrote Menon, quoting William Shakespeare.
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