The Space Frontier Foundation urged NASA to respect the results of a nationwide contest to name a new waste re-cycling module for the International Space Station (ISS). The Foundation proposed using either the first or second place winners of the contest: "The Colbert" (for the popular comedian) or "Serenity" (for the popular sci-fi television and film) as the official name for the module, whose purpose is to re-cycle human waste products and is the first of its kind to be flown in space.
"NASA initiated this contest," said Foundation co-Founder Rick Tumlinson, "to help regain popular support for ISS. In the 1980s, NASA promised that ISS would cost $8 billion and would be completed in the 1990s. Yet here we are, 25 years later, having spent over $100 billion and it's still not finished. Multiple generations of space supporters have come to believe that NASA never says what it means, or means what it says. But here the agency has an opportunity to flush that image down the drain and reach a whole new generation of potential supporters."
Foundation members have long fought for NASA to help open the space frontier for the rest of us with 'pro-Frontier' policies like buying re-supply and astronaut flights from entrepreneurial New Space companies to help bring down the costs of getting to space - thus enabling the birth of a space economy, perhaps including clean solar power generated in space. To them space is a place, not just a government program, and ordinary Americans should participate in its opening.
"If NASA rejects the popular winner of its contest, they'll be sending the wrong message: that space is just for humorless, undemocratic bureaucrats!" continued Tumlinson. "But it's not, and Americans do have a sense of humor. Even in space we do many of the same routine things there we do on Earth." He added with a wink: "Who knows, maybe the name will stick. After all, it was supposedly Thomas Crapper who popularized and named the flushable toilet we use today here on Earth. Generations of space pioneers to come might have to excuse themselves to go to 'The Colbert!'"
Foundation Chairman Berin Szoka offered a compromise: "If NASA wants to close the lid on 'The Colbert' as not serious enough a name for what is essentially an advanced toilet, they should go with the runner-up: 'Serenity,' the name of the spaceship in the hit sci-fi film and television show Firefly. Just as President Ford responded to a write-in campaign to name the first Space Shuttle Enterprise, NASA could embrace what made Firefly, like Star Trek, so enduringly popular: the inspiring depiction of ordinary people living and working in space. Of course, we concede this name too may have something to do with the quiet and special moment of privacy one might need after a hard day of working on the space frontier and eating from a squeeze tube."
The Foundation will explore this vision and the entrepreneurial "NewSpace" companies working to make it real at the upcoming NewSpace conference at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountainview, CA, July 18-20, 2009.