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Can NASA take a joke? Try space station Colbert

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[March 11, 2009]  WASHINGTON (AP) -- Earth to Space Station Colbert: The cosmic joke may be on NASA.

Comedian Stephen Colbert, who couldn't get his mock presidential campaign off the ground, is polling better by aiming higher. He's convinced his many fans to write in his name in NASA's online public vote to name a new room to be added to the international space station.

RestaurantSo instead of NASA's suggested choices -- Serenity, Legacy, Earthrise or Venture -- the space station's new addition may wind up with the name "Colbert."

The count by mid-Tuesday had votes for the comedian just shy of 115,000 and Serenity trailing at 98,641. More than 451,000 people have voted.

The to-be-named space station room, currently called Node 3, is scheduled to be delivered to the space station near the end of this year. It will have lots of big windows and a machine that will turn astronauts' urine into drinking water.

The name Colbert doesn't quite fit with NASA's theme, said agency spokesman John Yembrick. Other U.S. rooms in the international orbiting outpost are named Unity, Harmony and Destiny. However, the space agency hasn't made any decision and voting continues until March 20.

NASA has a legalistic out. Its contest rules say voting results "are not binding on NASA and NASA reserves the right to ultimately select a name" in keeping with its best interests.

Colbert's guest on "The Colbert Report" Tuesday was the strait-laced NASA official in charge of space station operations, William Gerstenmaier. After taping the show, Gerstenmaier wouldn't reveal what he told the comedian but said he had fun "in an engineer way."

Gerstenmaier said the idea behind the contest was to get people excited about space and he held out hope that NASA won't be stuck or have to ignore the vote: "We've got till the 20th of the month.... I'm looking for folks to be creative and think about what they're doing."

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And don't cry for Colbert if NASA uses its regulations to thwart him. He's already managed to get his name attached to an ice cream flavor, a Hungarian bridge and an eagle, to name a few.


On the Net:

NASA's Name Node 3 Contest:

The Colbert Report: http://www.colbertnation.com/home

[Associated Press; By SETH BORENSTEIN]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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