Guest article by Greg Fish (blog: world of weird things)
Oh what havoc faux-conservative pundit Stephen Colbert wrought on NASA and the ISS! To think that a little publicity stunt would actually put the U.S. space agency in a jam and incite grudging grumbles from Firefly fans who were sure that Node 3 would be called Serenity. Even a few Congressmen who found time away from dealing with a painful and deep recession that’s put the entire economy in turmoil, are now involved in sorting out this little mess.
But there’s actually an interesting question in this seeming non-story. Should NASA embrace the will of the masses and give nods to pop culture in how it officially names its spacecraft? There are stories of informal call signs for capsules and modules taken from the Peanuts comic strip, but there’s never been an official designation that reflects what’s popular here on Earth at the time of the mission. What would benefit NASA more? Giving in to the power of the fad or staying resolute with timeless names?
Recently, NASA has been doing all it can to get more people interested in space travel and what it does on a daily basis. There’s NASA TV, a NASA blog, a NASA Twitter for headline missions and the agency is embracing social bookmarking for just about every news release and story. And it now has a short history of contests which allow ordinary mortals to vote on where the Martian rovers will go next or where Hubble will point for its next detailed shot. Naming the new ISS node was just an extension of its attempts to get people engaged and involved. But this contest backfired.
Thankfully, Xenu, the Satan of Scientology, was left far in the dust by the top two choices; Colbert and Serenity. While Serenity might sound like a classic name from a Zen garden, it’s still a tribute to the short lived sci-fi TV show Firefly. On the one hand, NASA would put the spotlight on a comedy phenomenon which gives it plenty of airtime and attention on a nationwide show seen by millions of people every weekday. On the other, it would be giving a nod to a cult favorite that was on and off the air before you could even find your remote and switch to the right channel.
Of course as all cult favorites, Firefly has a devoted following which will be plenty mad that a short faux rant robbed them of their chance of a cosmic tribute and the focus might shift off the ISS to a popularity contest in the blogosphere. NASA might be tempted to sidestep a pop culture fight and assign a brand new name to Node 3 but that might hurt their chances of soliciting participants and suggestions for its next contest. If the agency can override whatever you choose, why even bother to vote?
So, Astroengine readers, what do you think Node 3 should be named when we consider all these nuances? Would NASA getting involved in the world of entertainment be a good thing? And how do you think it could take its brand and promotional efforts further to inspire more people to take an active interest in space exploration?