April 15, 2009 / 5:44 AM / 11 years ago

Colbert lost in space when NASA names station node

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - NASA on Tuesday named its new living quarters on the International Space Station “Tranquillity,” denying television comedian Stephen Colbert his attempt to get the new Node 3 named after himself.

Television comedian Stephen Colbert in an undated photo. REUTERS/Handout

Astronaut Sunita L. Williams, appearing on “The Colbert Report” on cable TV network Comedy Central, said NASA will name the new module Tranquility, instead of Colbert as he and his fans demanded after winning an online poll conducted by NASA.

But the U.S. space agency did make one concession. It said it will make a new Combined Operational Load-Bearing External Resistance Treadmill (COLBERT) — a fancy way of saying “exercise treadmill” — a key fixture in the space station.

“Your name will be in space in a very important place,” Williams assured Colbert on his TV show. “Everyday somebody will have to jump on the COLBERT,” she said.

Initially, the comedian seemed upset, but then he hit on an idea. “By running on the treadmill, that is what powers the Space Station?” asked a hopeful Colbert.

“Well, not really,” said Williams, who in the past served as a flight engineer aboard the space station.

The comedic situation stemmed from NASA’s recent public outreach to drum up interest in the $100 billion International Space Station by holding an online contest to name the new Node 3, which will house life support equipment.

Colbert, who parodies a conservative political commentator on his TV show, waged a campaign encouraging fans to vote for him and he eventually won, earning 230,539 write-in votes to 40,000 for NASA’s top suggestion, “Serenity.”

Contest rules stipulated that NASA retained the right to name Node 3, but in March 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 — Colbert.

In the end, Colbert took Tuesday’s news with a friendly handshake, and he thanked Williams and NASA for playing along with him and his fans.

It wasn’t Colbert’s first attempt to brand a piece of public property with his name. In 2006, he topped another public vote to name a bridge in Budapest, Hungary. But again he lost because Hungarian law required that the bridge’s namesake be fluent in Hungarian and deceased.

Additional reporting by Sheri Linden; editing by Todd Eastham

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