NASA in Colbert conundrum over Space Station

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida Mon Mar 30, 2009 2:35pm EDT

1 of 2. Comedian Stephen Colbert in an undated photo courtesy of Comedy Central.

Credit: Reuters/Handout

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - NASA's outreach to the public to drum up interest in the International Space Station started innocently enough with an online contest to name the station's new living quarters.

But Stephen Colbert, a comedian who poses as an ultra right-wing news commentator on cable television's Comedy Central, nosed into the act with a grass-roots appeal that has backed the staid U.S. space agency into a corner.

The comedian's supporters cast 230,539 write-in votes to name the new module at the $100-billion space outpost "Colbert." The top NASA-suggested name, "Serenity," finished a distant second, more than 40,000 votes behind.

Contest rules stipulate that the agency retains the right to basically do whatever it wants, but it may not be that easy.

Last week, U.S. Representative Chaka Fattah, a Pennsylvania Democrat, called on NASA to do the democratic thing and use the name that drew the most votes.

"NASA decided to hold an election to name its new room at the International Space Station and the clear winner is Stephen Colbert," Fattah said in a statement. "The people have spoken, and Stephen Colbert won it fair and square -- even if his campaign was a bit over the top."

NASA is taking some time to ponder its next move.

"We have a plan and we're working with some folks and in a couple of weeks you'll know what the answer is," NASA's associate administrator Bill Gerstenmaier said.

(Editing by Jim Loney and Vicki Allen)

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