NASA'snaming contest for a new space station module now faces a fresh challenger inthe form of comedian Stephen Colbert.
Colberturged fans to put his name in the runningon Tuesday's episode of his fake-conservative show "The ColbertReport" on Comedy Central, after dismissing the four NASA-chosen names —Earthrise, Legacy, Serenity and Venture.
"Thosearen't spacemodules, those are organic teas," Colbert said. "But you knowwhat name would look fantastic on the side of that module? Colbert!"
Viewersof the show responded quickly. By Wednesday, Colbert celebrated seeing his namerocket to the top of the write-in list, beating out former favorite"Xenu" which refers to a galactic ruler in Scientology's teachings.
"Folks,I'm telling you, if we keep this up until the contest ends on March 20, my namewill live forever — or at least until that node burns up in a fieryreentry," Colbert said on Wednesday's show. "Which is how I'd like togo out myself."
Node3 is scheduled for launch in 2009, and contains eight fridge-sized racks thatcan house much of the space station's life support systems. An observation deckattachment would offer astronauts sweeping views of both Earth and space, withsix windows that also allow space station residents to see what they're doingwhen controlling the International Space Station's 57-foot robotic arm.
Thismarks only the second time that NASA has sought public input for naming a pieceof U.S. space station hardware. The Harmony module was named by 2,200 studentswho entered NASA's naming contest for Node 2. By contrast, 169,000 people havevoted online at NASA's naming contest site so far.
TheNASA-chosen name Serenity, which shares the name of a spaceship in the cultfavorite television series "Firefly", continues to maintain a hugelead with more than 66,000 votes, according to NASA. But a surge of votes hasgiven Colbert 29,000 in just two days, enough for second overall. The trailingvote-getters include Xenu (9,200), Earthrise (4,200), Legacy (3,500) andVenture (3,200).
"Wethink that the 'Colbert' entry is great, and are excited that Mr.Colbert and his audience have taken an interest in the contest," saidJacob Keaton, space station program analyst and manager of the Name the NodeContest.
Keatonalso told SPACE.com that there were no special provisions for dealingwith unusual or downright wacky names, but that NASA would use the public'sopinion as a large part of the final decision.
TheInternational Space Station previously made an appearance on "The ColbertReport" when Colbert received an orbitalcall from astronaut Garrett Reisman. The comedian bolstered his claim toNode 3 by saying that the space station owed him for the publicity.
"Ialready gave it the Colbertbump when I talked to astronaut Garrett Reisman when he was posted upthere," Colbert noted on Tuesday. "Oh and surprise, it's now thenumber one space station in orbit."
TheInternational Space Station is currently the only continuously crewed outpostin orbit. The $100 billion orbital lab is the result of a 16-nationpartnership.
Colbertalso referred to when video game designer Richard Garriott brought a digitalversion of Colbert'sDNA up to the space station.
"Andas we all know, once your DNA is on something, it's yours," Colbert said."It works with break room doughnuts."
However,Keaton pointed out that "Mr. Colbert has some catch-up work to do if hewants to beat Serenity," noting that the frontrunners may yet change overthe remaining two weeks.
"Ican?t say before the contest closes whether Mr. Colbert can win ornot, though we wish him the best of luck," Keaton said.
Click here tocast your vote at NASA's Node 3 Web site through March 20.
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Jeremy Hsu is science writer based in New York City whose work has appeared in Scientific American, Discovery Magazine, Backchannel, Wired.com and IEEE Spectrum, among others. He joined the Space.com and Live Science teams in 2010 as a Senior Writer and is currently the Editor-in-Chief of Indicate Media. Jeremy studied history and sociology of science at the University of Pennsylvania, and earned a master's degree in journalism from the NYU Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. You can find Jeremy's latest project on Twitter.