Colbert on the Launch Pad


Stephen Colbert and his fans are trying to Rick-roll the Comedy Central star’s name straight into orbit – but NASA might not let the gimmick get off the ground.

The Colbert Report” host last week asked his audience to vote to christen a new International Space Station module in his honor. NASA is running an on-line naming contest, offering such candidates as Earthrise, Legacy, Serenity and Venture – as well as a write-in option.

“Serenity?” Colbert scoffed on Tuesday night’s edition of his satirical talk show. “That’s not a space module – that’s a Glade PlugIn!”

As of this writing, “Colbert” is leading the pack – in fact, none of NASA’s suggested monikers are even in the Top 10. The voting ends March 20.

Colbert sparred with NASA space station boss William Gerstenmaier, demanding a promise to name the module, otherwise known as Node 3, after him if he wins the contest.

“We’re going to have to go think about that,” Gerstenmaier demurred.

“That’s NASA’s problem – you guys think too much,” Colbert parried.

The comic, whose popularity has risen on the strength of his pompous Bill O’Reilly-like character, knows the value of a good naming gag. Ben & Jerry honored him with a flavor of ice cream (Stephen Colbert’s AmeriCone Dream), the San Francisco Zoo named an eagle Stephen Jr. and fans jammed an on-line contest to name a Hungarian bridge for him.

The space-station bid is more than just a publicity stunt: Colbert’s act is a deft satire of the Internet in the age of Rick-rolling  -- a term named for 1980s one-hit wonder Rick Astley whose cloying “Never Gonna Give You Up” video has been used by cyber pranksters to wreak mischievous merriment on the Web.

Colbert also apparently is targeting the absurd naming-rights culture where permission to plaster corporate logos on everything from arenas to baseball stadiums is auctioned off to the highest bidder.

NASA officials, who proved they got the joke by sending Gerstenmaier on “The Colbert Report,” have an out in the fine print – the space agency reserves the right to bounce any name it deems unacceptable, according to its Web site.

Once the final tally is in, we’ll learn if NASA’s sense of humor extends as far as outer space.

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Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.

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