In 1969, when the world saw Apollo 11 and its astronauts land on the moon, what had once seemed impossible became reality, unfolding right there on everyone’s tv screens. Space is just one of those things that makes the imagination run wild, spawning countless science fiction books, movies, and television shows, as well as popular music.
Of course, since the days of Apollo 11, we’ve seen much more space exploration, and we’re certainly no longer limited to the moon. Nowadays, rich dudes are even buying joy rides for themselves into space, like some kind of fun little hobby. There must be something innate in human nature to want a connection to the great big “out there,” and some people have gone to great lengths to have a piece of themselves go into orbit.
Enter Stephen Colbert! (Bear with us.) Before he was the earnest host of CBS’s “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” Colbert had a hilariously arrogant, conservative, satirical persona on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” from 2005 to 2014 (per IMDb). On that show, he involved his viewers in various shenanigans, including getting “Colbert Nation” to vote for a bridge in Hungary to be named after him and petitioning for his inclusion on the 2007 Republican and Democratic primary ballots in his home state of South Carolina (according to CNN), none of which actually ended up happening. But the most notorious may well be that time his fans won a NASA contest for him.
The NASA contest
In 2009, The Guardian reported that NASA ran a contest asking what people thought they should name a new room in the International Space Station, but made it clear that their pick was “Serenity,” which matched the tone and vibe of ISS rooms “Unity” and “Harmony.” However, they allowed write-in votes, and at the satirical Colbert’s drunk-with-power urging, his fans wound up voting for the new room to be named after Colbert, winning the contest by a formidable 40,000 votes.
In the end, NASA graciously opted out of having the ISS living room be Colbert’s ultimate namesake but they wanted to honor the contest results somehow. According to NASA’s website, engineers had been working hard for two years on a new treadmill to be installed in the space station, with a dull working title of “T-2,” due to it being the second treadmill to go on the ISS. And voila, the “Combined Operational Load-Bearing External Resistance Treadmill,” a.k.a. “COLBERT,” was born!
Curt Wiederhoeft, project manager for the treadmill, said, “I think it’s great for NASA that Mr. Colbert got his audience interested in the space station. Comedy Central attracts a lot of younger viewers, and the space program’s going to need the next generation’s support and interest.”
The COLBERT was still out there, helping keep space-dwelling astronauts healthy as recently as 2020, according to Space.com!
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