Colbert Report: Stephen Receives the Bittersweet News About Node 3

The Colbert Report aired last night and astronaut Suni Williams appeared on the show to announce the official name of Node 3. Like breaking news to a 5 year-old that Christmas has been cancelled, Williams did her best to be as gentle as she could be. Fortunately, Stephen Colbert soon cheered up when he found out that the “shoes inside the box” (the new treadmill) would be named after him. As always, very funny.

Unfortunately, I can’t help but think that “Tranquility” is a little lame. It just adds to the forgettable names of the other nodes I don’t remember…

…what’s the name of that node again?

Thanks Bente for the tip off!

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…

Shuttle Discovery Launch Success!


At 19:47 EST, the STS-119 mission began with the successful launch of Space Shuttle Discovery from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The mission had been delayed by a week due to a hydrogen leak outside Discovery’s external fuel tank (compounding the extended delay caused by valve problems), but the fault was repaired, allowing NASA to perform a flawless launch today.

Space Shuttle Discovery's trail catches the sunset above Florida (Spaceflight Now UStream)
Space Shuttle Discovery's trail catches the sunset above Florida (Spaceflight Now UStream)

STS-119 will install the fourth and final set of solar arrays to the ISS. In May, the space station crew will grow to six, so additional solar power will be required. Interestingly, once completed, the station will become the second brightest object in the night sky.

Good luck Discovery!

For developing news on STS-119, check out the coverage on the Universe Today »