Colbert: Entomologists Succeed Where NASA Failed, Introducing The Agaporomorphus Colberti

Agaporomorphus colberti, a diving beetle from Venezuela (Kelly Miller and Quentin Wheeler)

You remember last month’s fuss over a certain component of the International Space Station, don’t you? You know, the NASA node-naming competition that a certain US comedian managed to dominate, ultimately winning the popular vote to name the node after himself? Come on, you must remember? The vote that NASA ultimately decided wasn’t very suitable and went with “Tranquillity” instead? Ah yes, that competition!

Although Stephen Colbert, presenter and award-winning comedian on “The Colbert Report”, was denied having Node 3, NASA did recognise his efforts and named the brand new microgravity treadmill after him. The Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill (or COLBERT), is not only to remember Stephen’s landslide public vote, it is also a marvel in acronym construction.

Although space scientists are not so keen on naming components of the space station after Colbert, zoologists don’t have the same concerns about naming something after a living person. Two entomologists, Quentin Wheeler at Arizona State University and Kelly Miller at the University of New Mexico, have named a Venezuelan diving beetle after him, the mighty Agaporomorphus colberti. This is in honour of Colbert’s 45th birthday on May 13th.

Although it is great to be named after a small creature that enjoys paddling in the depths of South American ponds, I wonder if it’s any match for being named after an orbiting running machine for astronauts? After reading the honours list in the beetle world, I think I’d still prefer to have the unique privilage of astronauts saying, “I’m off to the COLBERT to stave off any muscle wastage…”

The pair have named beetles to honor the late rock ‘n’ roll legend Roy Orbison and his widow Barbara (Orectochilus orbisonorum); for fictional “Star Wars” character Darth Vader (Agathidium vaderi); and for former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (Agathidium bushi, A. cheneyi and A. rumsfeldi).

Agathidium vaderi? No way! Can I get one as a pet?

Still, good for Wheeler and Kelly. They’ve drummed up some interest in diving beetles and created some popular media attention for their area of science.

What does this have to do with space? Not a lot, just thought Agaporomorphus colberti sounded cool.


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”