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NASA should listen to public for naming

Credit: Jessica Thurston/Art Editor Credit: Jessica Thurston/Art Editor

NASA had a contest to name the new node of the International Space Station last month. While NASA contests normally pass without even a yawn, this most recent competition became noteworthy when Stephen Colbert realized that the leading write-in candidate was Xenu, the dictator of Scientology’s “Galactic Confederacy.”
His obvious response was to ask the nation to write in his own name as a choice.

As you should have already guessed, Colbert dominated the competition with over 200,000 votes, beating all four of NASA’s official suggested choices: Serenity, Earthrise, Legacy, and Venture. NASA has not yet decided the final name for the new module, maintaining that the rules of the contest stipulated that they may choose any name, but they did state that the poll winners would receive serious consideration.

While we applaud NASA’s efforts to reach out and include people in their naming process, their choices were less than stellar. Unfortunately, judging from the suggestions that NASA originally had in mind, it seems unlikely that they will actually listen to the people they were trying to reach out to when they invited the public to vote.

Regardless of Colbert’s ability to compel his extensive fan base to do anything he bids, NASA should be prepared to accept the possibilities of how Internet contests can quickly be shifted by celebrities and public figures.

Because of Colbert, NASA and the ISS are getting far more news (including this opinion) than they would have if people had stuck to only voting for names as placid as Serenity and Earthrise, like NASA had originally suggested.

Maybe if NASA was only attempting to increase publicity about Node 3, Colbert’s naming campaign was the best possible outcome. However, if they were really just stuck and wanted people’s help choosing a name for the node, they might as well pick Colbert.