Virgin Galactic has unveiled their newest model of spaceship, SpaceShipTwo. Virgin Galactic, part of Richard Branson's Virgin Group, is trying to make affordable space tourism. Where by affordable, we mean affordable if you have $200,000 to burn. And all you get is a quick sub-orbital hop. We are at the dawn of private space travel, and one could easily spend much time discussing the long-term political, social and religious implications. I'm not going to do that.
Instead, I'm going to focus on the names of the ships. The first ship will be named the VSS Enterpise. VSS stands for "Virgin Space Ship." The second ship according to some reports will be the VSS Voyager. Yes. Enterprise and Voyager. As in from Star Trek.
Officially, the VSS Enterprise is named not just after the fictional ships but also the real ships that have been given that name, including the space shuttle Enterprise.
Now here's where things get complicated. The space shuttle Enterprise was named after the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701), commanded by James Tiberius Kirk; the real shuttle Enterprise is named after the fictional ship. But it gets better. The writers of Star Trek retconned in the existence of the Enterprise space shuttle into their universe. That is, in the Star Trek universe, the Enterprise shuttle is now one of the long line of ships that existed before the Federation ships. But the Enterprise shuttle in the Star Trek universe is not named after the starship USS Enterprise because in the Star Trek universe, Star Trek never occurred as a 20th century television show. There has even been a Star Trek novel which had a plot focusing on the space shuttle Enterprise finally getting a chance to fly (in both the Star Trek universe and in our own universe the Enterprise was used a test shuttle but never flew into space). I've been unable to track down this novel although I did read it many years ago. If anyone can track down the novel I'd be very grateful.
I suspect that in a few years we will see the same thing for Branson's ship. That is, there will be official Star Trek material which includes Branson's ship as a ship that existed in the Star Trek universe.
I'm hoping that the ships three and four are named Serenity and the Millennium Falcon. Star Wars at least has the advantage of having occurred a long, long time ago, in a galaxy, far far away. So they won't have to deal with the oddity of incorporating into the universe real ships that were named after ships from their universe.