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Will NASA’s Newest Crowdsourcing Gambit End with a Curiosity or a COLBERT?

NASA needs your help naming its new research facility

The COLBERT treadmill was named after comedian Stephen Colbert. Photo: NASA

Kennedy, Goddard, Ames, DrydenMarshallColbert: The names of some of human spaceflight’s most important figures adorn the property of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Well, some of spaceflight’s key figures and one internet-savvy comedian, who convinced his fans to take over an online poll when NASA was looking for a new name for a portion of the International Space Station then known simply as “Node 3.”

This week, NASA has put out a call for recommendations as to what it should call a new branch of the Lunar Science Institute, opening up a window for denizens of the internet to bombard online polls with playful suggestions—if they’re not tired of that game yet.

NASA is no stranger to crowdsourcing names: the Curiosity rover currently cruising around Mars was named by a sixth grader, and the Space Shuttle Endeavour was named by elementary and high school students.

But, back in 2009, that reliance on the creativity of others took an usual turn. NASA set up an online form in a bid to rename “Node 3,” and at the behest of Comedy Central comedian Stephen Colbert, voters flooded the poll with Colbert’s name. Not quite comfortable with the idea of naming the module after the comedian, NASA instead settled on honoring Colbert with his very own treadmill, the “Combined Operational Load-Bearing External Resistance Treadmill” (COLBERT).

That is only one example in the long list of tricks internet users played with naming polls. Earlier this year, a contest by Mountain Dew to name a new beverage was bombarded with suggestions such as “Diabeetus” and other more colorful recommendations.

NASA does seem to have learned their lesson, however. “The final decision for the name for the expanded Institute,” they say, “will be made jointly by the Associate Administrators of both the NASA Science Mission Directorate (SMD) and Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD).”

More from Smithsonian.com:

Stephen Colbert Declared A National Treasure

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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