Berth of a Notion

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Nov 19, 2013
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I am both a space nerd and an (absurd) word nerd (proof). This means I love space words, getting a double dose of cosmological etymology in the process.

So in March 2013, I added a note to a post about the SpaceX Dragon capsule rendezvousing with the International Space Station, saying that it was actually berthing to the ISS, not a docking, because the station doesn’t move under its own power. As I understood it, NASA uses the term “docking” when both vehicles are maneuverable, while “berthing” is used when only one is.

However, this is incorrect! I got a note from Ben Honey, who told me that actually, “docking” is used when a vehicle performs the final mating with the ISS under its own power, while “berthing” is used when it is pulled in by the remote robotic manipulator Canadarm2 for mating.

And Honey should know: He’s a flight controller for the ISS!

So I sit corrected. I will update previous articles where I used the terms to link to this post so folks can get the real story. I apologize for any misconceptions I may have unintentionally promulgated myself — I looked and looked, by the way, and cannot find any notes from where I got the original mistaken info. I remember reading an explanation of it, but now cannot find it. I don’t even know if the original article I read was wrong, or if I misinterpreted it.

Ah well. Sometimes, mistakes are made. I just hope Slate doesn’t dock my pay for it.