Congress, NASA

Maybe he is serious

I noted here earlier this week that the “Colbert controversy”—what to do about naming Node 3 of the ISS after comedian Stephen Colbert won an online poll run by the space agency—attracted the attention of Rep. Chaka Fattah, who argued that NASA should bend to the will of the people (or, at least, the voters) and name the “nodule” (as Rep. Fattah described it in his press release) after Colbert. I said that it was fair to assume that Fattah was at least partially joking: why would a congressman, especially one who had been a guest on Colbert’s Comedy Central show, take the time to address this?

Well, it does appear that he is serious. Rep. Fattah tells “The Swamp”, a blog run by the Washington bureau of the Chicago Tribune, that he really thinks NASA should not disregard the results of the poll:

“Funding for space exploration is something where getting the public’s interest is challenging, and having Colbert would bring interest to NASA’s program,” Fattah said. “Over a quarter of a million people or so came online to chime in on the naming question … It just shows what happens when you reach outside the normal circles.”

Fattah said he’s not planning any further action with NASA and hasn’t contacted any officials personally, but the power of the purse is an influential thing.

(The reference to “the power of the purse” is a reminder that Fattah sits on the appropriations subcommittee whose jurisdiction includes NASA.) The question that isn’t asked, though, is whether Colbert is stimulating interest in space exploration, or simply having some fun (and getting some publicity) at NASA’s expense.

10 comments to Maybe he is serious

  • Doug Lassiter

    “Funding for space exploration is something where getting the public’s interest is challenging, and having Colbert would bring interest to NASA’s program,” Fattah said.”

    If an appropriator really thinks that naming Node 3 after a comedian/satirist is the way to bring public interest to NASA’s program, then he’s frighteningly out of touch with the whole human space flight effort. In fact, giving a “node” a more inspirational name isn’t a particularly effective way to do it either.

    I like giving names to robots that at least virtually expand our presence on other worlds. They are, as for Spirit and Opportunity, really extensions of us. We see things through their eyes as they travel around. Giving them names is something that really excites the Wall-E generation. I’m less excited about giving inspirational names to cans in space, except perhaps cans that take us places, as for the shuttles and space capsules. Explorers named their ships. Did they name the rooms in their huts?

    NASA should go ahead and name Node 3 with some inspirational name that will be soon forgotten by the public, and just stick up a little photo of Steven Colbert on the inside wall as a cute satirical honorific to what some people oddly consider the “will of the people”. In fact, put of a picture of Rep. Fattah up there right next to that of Colbert so they can smile at each other, which is mainly what this is all about.

  • Chance

    I’m pretty much with the Rep on this one. And I’m not even a Colbert fan (although “I am America” was a pretty funny book).

  • Ferris Valyn

    Most people don’t care about human spaceflight. They might start caring.

    People aren’t interested in the MER rovers for their names – the pictures and science does that for them

  • Doug Lassiter

    I spend a lot of volunteer time in elementary schools. The kids absolutely adore the fact that we don’t call them Mars Exploration Rover #1 and Mars Exploration Rover #2. It’s a fact, just FYI. They also love the pix and the science. I suspect that calling a MER “Colbert” wouldn’t quite hit the mark with them, though.

    But maybe you’re saying that we name an ISS node “Colbert” and older, more sophisticated people start caring about human space flight? In your dreams.

    Of course, once Node 3 is named Colbert, a precedent is set, and that section of ISS won’t symbolize the excitement of human spaceflight, but rather why these kinds of contests will never happen again.

    I still like the idea of a paper Stephen Colbert up there sharing smiles with a paper Chaka Fattah. The symbolism of that would be quite rich.

  • Doug,

    You are missing the entire point put out by Rep Fattah. The fact that a comedian/satirist like Colbert could get several hundred thousand people to go to a NASA website to participate in the online poll in naming a section of the space station reveals the ways in which NASA can engage the public’s interest. NASA could collaborate with Colbert in naming the the node after him by having him do NASA reports on his show. Engaging the public and having people (I am talking adults here) interested in what NASA is doing results in greater support for more funding. That is the kind of outreach NASA needs.

  • Doug Lassiter

    No, I think the point of Fattah is that the “peoples will” should rule. Where “peoples rule” is defined by him an election with no certification.

    So the next time, when Rush Limbaugh wins the naming contest, we’ll all tip our hats to the Rush-node, and do NASA reports on his show. What a concept! NASA will get loads of press, and the public will be highly enraged. Oops, I mean engaged.

    This gets funnier by the hour.

  • Chance

    I don’t think anyone here seriously cares if the the thing is called node 3 or Colbert, or Rush, but it’s annoying that NASA asks a question and then ignores the answer. If NASA didn’t have the foresight to narrow the field to a few acceptable choices, then tough for NASA.

  • Doug Lassiter

    I think people do seriously care, but your point is a good one. What people seem to seriously care about is that NASA should live up to a stupid decision they made, and some people seem to want to punish the agency by imposing on them what they stupidly asked for. Not clear who that really is supposed to help.

  • richardb

    Colbert could just as easily motivate his faithful to name it “commode” or some such whimsy that entertains Steve Colbert. This was a stunt for his own amusement and publicity nothing less or more. Nasa has done this in the past, witness STS Endeavor was given its name based upon public input. Of course that pre-internet. Lets be clear, Nasa was trying to be a good government agency here, opening to the people. Some of the people didn’t respect that and tried to debase the process. Nasa should ignore the ditto heads for Colbert.

  • red

    Mars Society Christens “Colbert Mars Desert Research Station”

    “Stephen Colbert is clearly the greatest mind of our time,” said Mars Society President Dr. Robert Zubrin. “Therefore it is only fitting that all of mankind’s extraterrestrial bases be named after him. We are grateful to have the opportunity to make MDRS the first. Indeed, in view of the near certainty of a successful Colbert presidential bid in 2012, the Mars Society is doubly delighted to be the first, as we have been assured that President Colbert will keep that fact in mind when it comes time to distribute his first ten trillion dollars of bailout funds to worthy recipients shortly after he takes office in January, 2013.”

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