Will Colbert Be Going to Space?

Carmakers struggle with it, so do sports teams and companies turning out new products: Picking out a memorable name that identifies a product in one word. The list of failures is endless.

NASA has the same problem. The space agency has already used most of the good names. Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Voyager … well, you get the idea.

So many spacecraft, so few names.

With that in mind, the brain trust at NASA decided to put the name of the next module to go up to the space station up for an online vote. Did it backfire? Of course.

Stephen Colbert put viewers of his Comedy Central show, "The Colbert Report," up to going online and voting to name the next segment Colbert.

And of course, his name is winning the contest.

In order, the Top 5 vote-getters in NASA's voting so far are:


My Yearbook




That was not quite the response anticipated by the image makers at NASA, who were most likely hoping for something like Serenity or Venture or Earthrise. They are lucky their voting didn't get hijacked by "Halo 3" or Britney Spears fans.

It's put the space agency in an awkward position, something acting administrator Bill Gerstenmaier admitted after the landing of the Space Shuttle Discovery Saturday.

No matter how the voting turns out, though, it's highly doubtful NASA will allow the new addition to be named Colbert. Read the fine print on the voting guidelines.

"NASA will take into consideration the results of the voting," the guidelines say. "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."

ABC News asked the two American astronauts on the space station their opinion of naming the new addition Colbert.

Newcomer Mike Barrett confessed he didn't know much about it.

"I've been training in Russia for the last few months and have been out of the loop," he said.

Billionaire space tourist Charles Simonyi leaned over and whispered in his ear, apparently filling Barrett in on the vote.

Hard to Come to a Space Station Consensus

The International Space Station doesn't have a name, but most of its modules do -- things like Harmony, Kibo, Columbus, Destiny, Zarya and Zvezda. You get the drill.

What has kept the space station, is more complicated than just that the people who run the space program have run out of nifty sounding names.

In fact, 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.

Whichever way you look at it, 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.

"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.

"The cupola's six rectangular windows and one circular window overhead will show a panoramic view that will be unrivaled by any other spacecraft ever flown," NASA's invitation for voting said. "Aside from providing a perfect location to observe and photograph the Earth, the cupola also will contain a robotics workstation, where astronauts will be able to control the station's giant robotic arm."

There have been 1,190,437 visitors to the Web site who voted or submitted a name. NASA says it will announce the winner this month.

The question: Will NASA let itself admit space can be fun and do something unexpected?

Maybe Colbert isn't so outrageous, if you are enough of a space buff to remember Apollo 10 with Snoopy and Charlie Brown.