Next US military spy satellite launch has inexplicable Lord of the Rings theme

The Tolkien fans at the National Reconnaissance Office are on a quest to make it to orbit this week.

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
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Eric Mack

What would a simple Bagginses think of this?

United Launch Alliance

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket is set to send a National Reconnaissance Office spy satellite into orbit from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as soon as Wednesday after being pushed back from a planned Election Day launch. Though information about NRO launches is always a little scarce for obvious reasons, this one looks to be relatively routine, except for the baffling mission artwork that includes a phrase in ... Elvish?

The poster for the mission, which is officially called NROL-101, sports a pretty clear Lord of the Rings theme, featuring a pair of interlocking golden rings and the phrase "goodness persists" written in both English and Elvish Tengwar script, the fictional language dreamed up entirely by author J.R.R. Tolkien himself.

A United Launch Alliance spokesperson said the artwork and theme came from NRO, which declined to explain the reference to Middle Earth.

It's not unusual for NRO to pick a quotable phrase and theme for its mission posters. Usually they involve some phrase in Latin and some sort of mythic character like a Pegasus or Thor.

But we'll likely never know the details about this bewildering theme, just as we'll probably never know the specs of the satellite being launched. 

Liftoff has been postponed twice due to technical issues. It's now planned for no sooner than Wednesday. We'll update this post when we have more details.