NASA is learning the power of the internet and social computing – the hard way. NASA has one of the better sites on the web with a good design with a wealth of news, feeds, archival data, and multimedia to be experienced and enjoyed by all followers of the space program. NASA can be found on Twitter and Facebook and with the NASA channel available via streaming video on the web, or carried at least partly by local government channels on cable or via satellite they would seemed to have mastered all means of media. However, NASA’s good intentions were disrupted by those whose business it is not just to "inform" or in this case "perform", but disrupt and exploit media channels. Enter Stephen Colbert.
The comedian who almost falls into the category of being famous for being famous since I can’t seem to place what he’s actually accomplished that’s meaningful. Colbert recently rallied his troops to win a NASA sponsored “name a space station module” contest. To my knowledge Colbert has done nothing to advocate for the space program and I’m sure his legions of followers don’t have the passion for space exploration as the rest that voted in the contest.
I’m sure a the majority of space supporters never dreamed that the contest would be hijacked by someone directing people to a website to vote, but we shouldn't have been surprised and neither should NASA. Any Facebook user will tell you that causes pop-up everyday and thousands join as the movement spreads. There isn’t much humor in what happened since it will inspire future copycats and deprive many of a chance to participate in something they’re passionate about. The likes of Letterman, Leno, Limbaugh, Stern and Winfrey could have easily marshaled followers to do the same. Kudos to Colbert for thinking of it first or I should say kudos to the rest who thought it an act below the standards of decency to do such a thing.
There are many deserving names that could go on the module. There are those that lost their lives to keep the dream of space exploration alive. Many more that dreamed and sacrificed to make the space program what it is today. When Colbert puts his money where his mouth is and cuts NASA a check for the naming rights to the module equal to the taxpayer costs to build it then I’ll be all for it. Until then, name it after someone deserving who has actually made a contribution to the program. Name it after an American soldier who died during the Iraq or Afghanistan war. Name it after the police officer who has fallen in the line of duty. Name it after the countless heroes in America, but don't name it after Colbert. A man who has reaped the spoils of the American dream, but has given so little back.
If NASA ends up naming the module after Colbert I’ll feel different about the agency. No less passionate about space exploration, but disappointed that we let a comedian jump to the head of the class by duping the agency and the public. Different because he is undeserving and until every single deserving person ahead of Colbert in line gets their due Colbert can wait, and a long wait it would be. It was a hard lesson to learn that there are people that don’t play by the rules of decency. There are too many deserving people whose name could be on that module. Colbert would be an ant among giants in that field. This stunt proves one thing we already knew. He’s just not that funny.