Not “Serenity”, Not “Colbert”… Node 3 Will Be Named “Tranquility”

Node 3 will be called Tranquility (NASA)

Deciding against the popular vote, NASA has made up its mind and gone in a completely different direction (who would have guessed?). The new addition to the International Space Station, will be named “Tranquility” (in honour of the 40th anniversary of the first manned base on the Moon this July), ignoring the clear winner in the “please help us name Node 3” competition. Obviously concerned about the role Stephen Colbert’s celebrity status had securing so many votes, the space agency looked as if they might go for one of the official suggestions, the second place “Serenity”.

This didn’t happen either.

They decided to go with a more suitable public suggestion, about half-way down the top ten chart. Tranquility will join similar nodes called Unity and Harmony, sounding more and more like the components of a Japanese Zen garden every day.

But there is a consolation prize for the award-winning presenter and comedian, the new running machine will be called the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill (or COLBERT), proving once again that a lot of effort goes into NASA’s acronyms…

For more, check out the news on »

NASA’s Continuing Foray Into Pop Culture

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?

Continue reading “NASA’s Continuing Foray Into Pop Culture”

Discovery Undocks From ISS, Descends Through Sunset

A sequence of images from the space station as Discovery departs (NASA TV, edited by Ian O'Neill)
A sequence of images from the space station as Discovery departs. Images slightly corrected for camera rotation (NASA TV, edited by Ian O'Neill)
The ISS now has its full set of solar arrays after the STS-119 mission (NASA)
The ISS now has its full set of solar arrays after the STS-119 mission (NASA)

After looping once around the space station, space shuttle Discovery slowly dropped away as it started its journey back to Earth on Wednesday, March 25th.

I was watching the live video feed coming from the station, captivated by the scene. Having successfully completed the STS-119 mission, the seven crew members said their farewells after the 10-day stay in low-Earth orbit to install the remaining solar arrays (left). This will enable the station to collect more energy to sustain an expanded crew from three to six later this year, and allow the station to carry out more science.

On NASA TV, I listened to the chatter between mission control, the station and the shuttle but I was overjoyed to capture some screen shots as the shuttle passed through the sunset and then dropping into the Earth’s shadow (top). The added bonus was the glint of sunlight before Discovery turned orange before slipping into the night. Stunning…

For more, check out the Universe Today’s coverage of the Discovery undocking »

In the Event of ISS Naming Dispute, the Brian Bat Foundation Lodges Node 3 to be Called “Brian”


As of Monday night (March 23rd), NASA had yet to officially announce the name of the upcoming Node 3 to be attached to the International Space Station. There is some controversy with the voting process as Stephen Colbert, presenter of the Comedy Channel’s “Colbert Report”, used his significant media presence to secure a win of the vote after appealing to his audience to vote for “Colbert”. NASA allowed the name to remain as a candidate and it went on to win the competition. Naturally, this outcome drew some surprise and doubt as to whether NASA will keep “Colbert” at all. In second place is the far more palatable “Serenity”, more suitable on so many levels.

However, should NASA go with the popular vote and name Node 3 “Colbert”, it might be seen as setting a bad president that celebrities can use their TV presence to force the outcome of what should be a scientific vote (and therefore get some stellar free advertising). If NASA decides not to use “Colbert” in favour of the second official choice of “Serenity”, NASA will suffer accusations of preventing the democratic process, thereby making public participation in mission naming a farce. Either way, although fairly minor, there could be some trouble ahead, and possibly bad press for NASA.

Therefore, as the Brian Bat Foundation‘s first official business, we are putting forward a proposition that in the event of a Node 3 naming dispute, NASA should consider using another, more suitable name for Node 3. It is not the name, it is the memory that is important, the memory of Brian the Discovery Bat who lost his life during the launch of the most recent shuttle mission to the ISS, STS-119. The Node 3 voting process was nearly over on that fateful Sunday night at Cape Canaveral, so voting for the name “Brian” wasn’t a possibility.

It’s about time Brian and all the other animals that have sacrificed their lives in the name of human space exploration are remembered in space as well as on the ground. Perhaps a component on the orbiting manned outpost could be the ideal location for such a memorial. Now that would be awesome!

A special thanks to @Barstein for suggesting the new possible name for Node 3 and to the ever watching spirit of Brian, @DiscoveryBat

Will NASA Really Call the ISS Node 3 “Colbert”?

The NASA Node 3 and ESA-built Cupola (NASA)
The NASA Node 3 and ESA-built Cupola (NASA)

There’s a mini-storm brewing over the popular choice of the winning nomination for the name of the new segment of the International Space Station (ISS). The problem arose when NASA decided to invite nominations for names of the new addition; NASA had four “official” suggestions (including the popular “Serenity” option after the legendary spaceship from the TV show Firefly), but “Colbert” from the popular TV show, “The Colbert Report”, won with a vote count of over 230,000. This beat off “Serenity” by 40,000 votes, a convincing lead in my books.

All in all, I’d make this simple. NASA invited nominations and allowed the public to vote on it, so name Node 3 after a popular comedian and not a popular space ship. However, this may invite criticism that a celebrity can actively drum up support (perhaps unfairly) via a large audience. But is this enough to make the Colbert result null and void? Although NASA reserves the right to override the result, the agency should have removed Colbert from the voting before the process ended if it was indeed deemed unfair.

Personally, I would love to see Node 3 be named Serenity (as this Astroengineer is a serious Firefly nut), and “serene” is what this node will be as the ESA Copola will be attached, giving station astronauts an incredible viewing experience of the Earth and space, I can think of no better, peaceful viewing platform. To say “I’m entering Serenity,” sounds far better (and more decent) than “I’m entering Colbert,” but NASA may have to be fair on this. They invited public participation, and to defend the agency’s public image and guise of fairness (regardless of competition clauses), technically “Colbert” should be chosen. But I would be overjoyed if Node 3 was named Serenity, be damned with democratic fairness!

In any case, all the finalists were pretty cool, although I have no idea how Xenu made it into the top ten… there are a lot of Scientologists out there it seems, now that is where the real debate should be focused!

Pins and Solar Arrays

Astronaut Richard Arnold participates in the STS-119 first scheduled spacewalk to connect the S6 truss segment to the ISS on Thursday March 19th, 2009 (NASA)
Astronaut Richard Arnold participates in the STS-119 first scheduled spacewalk to connect the S6 truss segment to the ISS on Thursday March 19th, 2009 (NASA)

According to NASA, Space Shuttle Discovery’s STS-119 mission to install the remaining solar arrays is going to plan, apart from the small matter of a pin that was installed the wrong way. Although this might sound inconsequential, the mistake made during today’s spacewalk has jammed an equipment storage platform, eating up valuable time during the EVA, causing NASA mission control to evaluate the situation. At the moment, the platform is temporarily tethered in place until a solution is found to the pin that has been inserted incorrectly.

For more information on this news, check out the Associated Press article »

In the grand scheme of things, this won’t hinder progress too much. I am still in awe of any mission that makes the space station capable of supporting an expanded crew of six, creating the second brightest object in the nights sky (after the Moon). This bright speeding object is a huge, man-made array of solar panels. If we are capable of doing these things at an altitude of 350 km, anything is possible…

Mosquito Survives in Space for 18 Months

Mosquitos: Tougher than they look
Mosquitos: Tougher than they look

According to results from a Russian biology experiment on the International Space Station (ISS), a mosquito has survived the rigours of space for 18 months. However, this little winged insect didn’t do it inside the comfort of the ISS, he did it outside, in a small can.

The experiment was carried out by the same Russian-Japanese collaboration that brought us Space Beer from space-grown barley (I think you know my feelings about that endeavour), to study the effects of microgravity on various organisms and plants. However, in this case, our little mosquito drew the short straw and was attached to the outside of the station.

The mosquito study is intended to see how the insect copes with being exposed to damaging cosmic rays and the extreme variations in temperature, in the build-up to a possible Russian manned mission to Mars. According to a Russian media source, the future Mars cosmonauts are already training for the mission in a forest outside Moscow
Continue reading “Mosquito Survives in Space for 18 Months”

It’s Not One-Way Traffic: Satellites Collide at 790 km

© David Clark
© David Clark

On Tuesday, at approximately 5pm GMT, two satellites made history. They became the first artificial satellites ever to collide accidentally in low-Earth orbit. The event happened between a defunct Russian satellite (Cosmos 2251, launched in 1993) and an active commercial Iridium communications satellite (Iridium 33, launched in 1997), destroying the pair. Now there’s a mess up there, pieces of debris threatening other satellites, possibly even the International Space Station
Continue reading “It’s Not One-Way Traffic: Satellites Collide at 790 km”

Top 5 Space Exploration Mishaps of 2008

Houston, our toy rocket appears to be on fire. Photo by Jurvetson (flickr)

In the last 12 months, we’ve seen some of the most astonishing advances in space exploration technology. From SpaceX launching the first commercial rocket into Earth orbit to seeing the first Chinese spacewalk, all of our endeavours in space will help develop the future of manned spaceflight. Even the recently published Time Magazine Top 10 Scientific Discoveries list space and physics endeavours high up the list.

However, there is a flip-side to this coin. Fortunately there has been no loss of life through manned spaceflight in 2008, but we’ve had our fair share of mishaps. Some have been expensive, some just embarrassing, but each one has taught us what to do, and what not to do, as we begin to venture further from the protective atmosphere of Earth. So, to recognise our mistakes, and move on from them, here are the Top 5 Space Exploration mishaps of 2008…
Continue reading “Top 5 Space Exploration Mishaps of 2008”

The Link Between Beer and the Colonization of Space

A Japanese brewery has successfully produced 100 litres of Space Beer. Hurrah!

The beer won’t actually be consumed in space (which seems a shame somehow), but it was made totally from barley grown on the International Space Station. For a lucky few, 60 people will get to sample the beer in Tokyo next month. So, what can they expect?

Alas, there won’t be much difference between the Sapporo Brewery’s 100% space barley brew when compared with a terrestrial grain as there is no measured difference in the DNA of barley grown in space when compared with barley grown on Earth. Therefore I doubt there will be any “eureka!” moment for the alcoholic beverage industry and therefore no immediate plans to launch a micro(gravity)brewery into orbit…

That said, this isn’t just a publicity stunt. The barley was grown as part of a joint Japanese/Russian experiment to test the suitability of certain crops to be grown in space. Along with the barley; wheat, peas and lettuce were also harvested. In previous tests, a Canadian research paper was presented revealing no difference between the DNA of barley grown in space when compared to the stuff grown on Earth. Although this kinda takes away from the possibility that space barley could make a better beer, it is reassuring to know that terrestrial foodstuffs can be grown in space with minimal risk of mutation (and possible hazardous side effects to space traveller’s health). Obviously more work will need to be done, with several generations of the same plant re-cultivated and harvested, but these first results are very exciting.

Hold on. Exciting? Why?

This is another step in the direction of a reduced dependence on Earth for the supply of food. If a Japanese brewery can produce 100 litres of beer from ingredients grown in space, we’ve made an important leap into the production of other consumables from ingredients grown in space. Imagine what this means for the future of mankind when we begin setting up colonies on the Moon and, eventually (in my lifetime I hope!) on Mars. The vision of cultivating food on other planets becomes one step closer to reality.

This is one of the International Space Station’s key strengths. It is a long-term scientific mission to assess man’s adaptability to a space-based environment. Growing barley in space is therefore not a commercial venture (Sapporo is not selling any of the Space Beer it produces, although the company will most certainly profit from some good exposure in the media), it is a critical step in our space-faring ability. Add this success to the recent installation of the urine recycling system added as part of the STS-126 shuttle mission to the ISS and you can see that we are beginning to cut the umbilical cord that prevents long-term manned space travel.

Hopefully, within 20 years, these techniques will have been perfected, allowing mankind to begin work on other planets, ultimately setting up self-sustaining colonies throughout the Solar System.

And all this excitement from the production of a small quantity of Space Beer…

For more, read my Universe Today article Cheers! Japanese Brewery Produces Space Beer… But What’s the Point?