Right off the bat let me confess that until Tuesday I knew nothing about Stephen Colbert other than his making up the mildly humorous word “truthiness.” We don’t have cable; we still haven’t switched to digital, and I almost never watch TV. The exception is that my wife and I love “Life on Mars,” and that is canceled as of April.

But according to an Associated Press article posted on Yahoo!, Stephen Colbert is a comedian who ran a mock presidential campaign. I can relate to that because in my day, Pat Paulson did the same thing in many election years. Colbert is imitative, without doubt. What I can’t relate to is that nearly 115,000 people have “voted” for him in another of his campaigns, to name a node of the International Space Station after himself.

The Space Station is something I do know about. According to NASA, Space Shuttle Endeavour will lift the third node to the station in December. The node is a cupola to be connected to the rest of the station.

“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,” says a description the agency posted on the Internet. “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.”

The cupola will be a perfect place to watch and photograph the Earth, and will have a robotics workstation to control the station’s gigantic robotic arm.

An oxygen regeneration system will be installed in the node. So will systems to control levels of carbon dioxide in the station and recover water from urine, says the site. It will have a “waste and hygiene compartment, which provides a place for the crew to use the bathroom in a way that allows the station to process the majority of the water used onboard so that it may be used again, greatly lessening the need for resupply flights from Earth.”

Anyway, NASA is soliciting names for Node 3. The polling runs through March 20, with the agency to announce the winning name in April.

The two existing nodes are named Unity and Harmony.

An on-line voting form asks those interested to choose a name for the third mode: Earthrise, Legacy, Serenity, Venture or “suggest your own.” The last has a place to write in one’s suggestion.

AP reports that Colbert has convinced fans to write in his name.

In order, the 10 front-runners are, according to NASA, Colbert, Myyearbook, Xenu, Socialvibe, Buddy, Tranquility, Synergy, Vision, Vista and Sunshine.

More than 451,000 people have voted. The oh-so-funny name has garnered nearly 115,000 votes, adds AP, while Serenity has only 98,641.

(This statistic seems wrong because NASA didn’t list Serenity among the top 10. If 10 other names, including Colbert with its 115,000, received more votes than Serenity’s, the votes would amount to more than 1 million, not less than half that. But it could be accurate if NASA is tracking nearly half a million individual voters, who are allowed to vote multiple times.)

My sense of humor is often inappropriate — can’t help it, that’s just how I am. And I love democracy as much as anyone. But I can’t fathom making a joke out of the dangerous and expensive exploration of space.

Should Colbert win, what will that say about our national commitment to the sometimes deadly-serious business of discovery? As someone who watched Columbia on its horrific last landing attempt, I’m well aware of danger.

Will space exploration become a joke to Congress? “Oh sure,” says some updated version of former Sen. William Proxmire, D-WI., “As if I’m going to let NASA fleece the American public so they can take pretty pictures from a module named after that numbskull Colbert.”

NASA reserves the right to reject any name, regardless of the outcome.

Anyone may vote once per day through March 20 at the “Help NASA Name Node 3” Internet site.

It’s probably impossible to overcome the ridiculous campaign at this late point. But maybe we who take the study of space seriously can at least get a point across. Where the form asks for a name suggestion, we can write in, “NOTCOLBERT.”

The site is Here.
But first, please let us know what you think of the controversy by adding your comment below.

Leave a comment encourages a civil dialogue among its readers. We welcome your thoughtful comments.