HOUSTON -- A move to the space-age Astrodome meant the local baseball team deserved a space-age nickname, too. Thus the Astros were born, replacing the Colt .45s name that the expansion National League club had used for its first three seasons and ushering in a new chapter in Houston baseball history.
The logos, colors, uniforms, ballparks and even leagues have changed in the decades that followed, but the Astros name that was born prior to the 1965 season remains the oldest nickname in the history of Houston professional sports franchises. And with apologies to the NBA’s Rockets and the NFL’s Texans, it’s also the most iconic.
Judge Roy Hofheinz, who owned the expansion baseball franchise and was the brainchild behind the Astrodome, announced on Dec. 1, 1964, that the Colt .45s were becoming the Astros in conjunction with their move to the Astrodome -- the world’s first domed stadium -- at the start of the '65 season.
“We felt the space idea was more logical because the ballclub is in Houston -- Space City, U.S.A., and our Spring Training headquarters is in Cocoa Beach, Fla., at Cape Kennedy -- Launching Pad, U.S.A.,” Hofheinz said at the time. “The name and insignia will help dispel the image of Texas as a land of cowboys and Indians, and it behooves every citizen in this area to call attention to the 20th century aspects of Texas and Houston.”
While contemplating a name change -- the Colt Firearms Company wanted a slice of the team’s revenues -- in 1964, Hofheinz hired an artist to design new concepts, and he made sketches as he attended about two dozen games at Colt Stadium that season. The concepts were narrowed down to Astros and Stars, and Hofheinz asked astronaut Alan Shepard, who was a close friend, for his advice.
Not surprisingly, Shepard was partial to Astros, since it was short for Astronauts -- a nod to NASA and the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The city was leading the way to new frontiers in space, and Hofheinz hoped his new baseball team would shoot for the moon as well.
Not long after announcing the Astros name, the club unveiled a logo that featured baseballs orbiting around the Astrodome. A version of that logo was used until 1993, when the team swapped out the orange and rainbow patterns from its uniform for a blue and gold look.
Jim Crane, who purchased the team prior to the 2012 season, briefly toyed with the idea of changing the club’s name to coincide with its move to the American League in '13, but he eventually decided that the Astros had too much history. The Astros would remain, and they changed their colors back to the original blue and orange prior to the '13 season.