So many missions, so many abbreviations! Though NASA may not have cornered the market on acronyms and initialisms (we’re looking at you, U.S. military), they certainly have some of the most recognizable. By definition, an acronym is an abbreviation utilizing letters of a longer phrase to create a shorter one that functions as a pronounceable new word, such as NASA. Initialisms, on the other hand, are not pronounceable and well-known examples include FBI and DVD. Both abbreviations are used as tools to shorten complicated phrases referring to scientific instruments or spaceflight operations and missions at NASA.
Using acronyms can save time and boost memory, not to mention saving space in documents and presentations. However, unfamiliarity with acronyms can also cause the opposite of clarity in communication. NASA programs often seem to strive for catchy, easy-to-remember examples that prove tailor made for social media platforms like Twitter with its restricted character count. Descriptive acronyms like CAPCOM, MESSENGER, DSCOVR, MAVEN, BEAM, OSIRIS-REx and CYGNSS pepper the online space enthusiast conversation, causing past NASA missions and milestones to remain at the forefront even when shiny new science missions come along.
As for SCE to AUX, this is a classic example of acronyms and initialisms at work for NASA. When Apollo 12 launched in 1969, the rocket was struck by lightning causing instrument malfunction. Flight controller John Aaron solved the problem with one recommendation, “Flight, try SCE to AUX.” The Signal Conditioning Equipment (SCE) could resolve the instrumentation issues in auxiliary mode (AUX), preventing mission abort for Apollo 12.
Check out a list of NASA Acronyms.