Tranquility may ring a bell with you, especially if you watch Comedy Central. Last year NASA ran an online contest to get people to pick a name for it (the agency suggested names like "Serenity" and "Earthrise") -- but Stephen Colbert stuffed the digital ballot box. He got fans to submit an alternative name -- his -- which handily beat everything else.
NASA took a deep breath and announced, on "The Colbert Report," that it would name the module after Tranquility Base, where Apollo 11 landed on the moon. But the comedian will still be immortalized in space. Bolted to the floor near the cupola will be an exercise treadmill called C.O.L.B.E.R.T. (Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill).
So with Tranquility in place, astronauts will work out inside, enjoy the view outside, and wonder just what's happening down on Earth. The Bush administration proposed that the space station be ditched in the Pacific in 2015, while astronauts go back to the moon and eventually on to Mars. This month the Obama White House proposed that the station keep flying until at least 2020, while new technology is developed to make future space exploration more practical. Astronauts peering out the cupola's windows may have a lot of time to look.
They may not mind. Years ago, I was in Houston talking with astronaut Kenneth Cockrell about the space station's budget problems, and he said there had been long conversations about whether any station sections could be left out to save money. There were compromises made (the station has no bedroom per se; a "habitation module" was canceled), but then they got to talking about whether the cupola could be left out.
"What happened?" I asked.
"That was non-negotiable," he smiled.