The name Stephen Colbert will blast off into the final frontier, although not exactly in the way the comedian had hoped.
After much anticipation, NASA said Tuesday it would not name the new room in the international space station after Colbert, even though he won the most votes in an online write-in contest.
Instead, a treadmill will carry the Colbert name into space.
As for the new space station room (node 3), NASA has chosen the name Tranquility, which it says was one of the Top 10 vote-getters. The new name is a nod to where Apollo 11 landed on the moon, the Sea of Tranquility.
Astronaut Sunita Williams joined the comedian to make the announcement Tuesday on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report."
When she revealed that Colbert had lost his latest naming campaign, the audience let out a galactic "boo!"
But when she assured him that his name would still be in space, he responded in his signature style.
"I think [the] treadmill's better than a node. You know why? Because the node is just a box for the treadmill," he said. "Nobody says, 'Hey, my mom bought me a Nike box.' They want the shoes that are inside."
Williams said the treadmill will be named the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill, or COLBERT, for short. It is expected to launch in August and a special patch will be created to show off the acronym.
NASA has invited Colbert to Florida for the launch of COLBERT and to Houston to test out a version of the treadmill.
'Colbert' Wins Hands Down
Earlier, NASA had launched an online contest inviting the public to write-in and vote on the name of the next module to go into space.
They never expected Colbert to put viewers of his show up to going online and voting to name the next node. (The comedian has already succeeded in getting a bridge, an ice cream flavor, a spider and other miscellany named for him.)
His name blew the other candidates (including NASA's own Serenity, Legacy, Earthrise and Venture) out of the water. His name won 230,000 votes. The second most popular option, Serenity, earned 190,000 votes.
Hard to Come to a Space Station Consensus
It put the space agency in an awkward position, something acting administrator Bill Gerstenmaier admitted after last month's landing of the Space Shuttle Discovery. But, all along, the agency reserved the right to overrule the voters.
"NASA will take into consideration the results of the voting," the guidelines said. "However, the results are not binding on NASA and NASA reserves the right to ultimately select a name in accordance with the best interests of the agency, its needs, and other considerations. Such name may not necessarily be one which is on the list of voted-on candidate names. NASA's decision shall be deemed final."
The International Space Station doesn't have a name, but most of its modules do -- things like Harmony, Kibo, Columbus, Destiny, Zarya and Zvezda.
What has kept the space station nameless is more complicated than just that the people who run the space program have run out of nifty-sounding names.
Indeed, space station program manager Mike Suffredini admitted last year that it is going to be tough to ever name the space station.
"We would have to get the 16-partner countries to agree on a name, and that is a daunting prospect," he said.
The space station is 10 years old, and it is now 81 percent complete. By most accounts, it is the most complicated engineering project ever undertaken.
Critics call it a huge waste of money; supporters say it is a testament to international engineering and cooperation.
Either way, it is still a vague concept for most citizens of the 16 countries that have forged a partnership to build the orbiting outpost.
Naming Node 3
When NASA opened up the voting for the name of the new addition, now known simply as Node 3, it described the goal of the contest and the mission of the new space station component.
"NASA is deciding on a name for the International Space Station's Node 3 -- a connecting module and its cupola -- before the two segments travel to space and are installed on the orbiting laboratory," the statement said. "The name should reflect the spirit of exploration and cooperation embodied by the space station and follow in the tradition set by Node 1 -- Unity -- and Node 2 -- Harmony.
Millions of Votes, Thousands of Names
"Space Shuttle Endeavour will deliver the Node 3 components during the STS-130 mission targeted for February 2010. Once the cupola is attached to one of the module's six ports, it will offer astronauts a spectacular view of both their home planet and their home in space," it said.
NASA said it received millions of votes and thousands of suggested names.