As Reuter’s reported today, NASA is in a bit of a pickle after they ran a contest to name the new space shuttle.
Supporters of Stephen Colbert (and nerdy pranksters of all stripes, I’d reckon), cast 230,539 write-in votes to name the new shuttle the “Colbert” after Colbert used his show to get the prank going. 230K votes = not bad organizing. NASA supported the name, “Serenity,” which finished a distant second. Peace, Prosperity, Liberty, and Victory all come to mind as equally yawn-inspiring. Serenity ran more than 40,000 votes behind. Um, Serenity is a brand of adult diapers.
But so what? NASA, have the guts to do what you want. Don’t be cowed by a silly online vote.
Does anyone else remember the 1976 write-in contest by Star Trek fans to name the first shuttle “Enterprise.” Then-President Ford interceded on behalf of the Trekkers and made it so. Amazing. Democracy in action. An unelected President casting another deciding vote. Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek stars on hand at the dedication ceremony. Cheers and euphoric spectacle-drenched imaginings all around.
But is this current case democracy, or another successful demonstration of the fan-power of the traditional media? It doesn’t seem all that different from the Star Trek case, to be honest, except that the Star Trek fans were really serious about NASA, technological utopianism, and the bright shiny space-faring future that the space shuttle was supposed to usher in. What does Stephen Colbert stand for? Right-wing political parody? Is that how the New NASA rolls?
Maybe a better exemplar for NASA would be Threadless, the online community t-shirt company. Although Threadless is pretty democratic, and promotes itself as listening to the voice of its community, every so often people organize to promote a t-shirt that is silly, violate Threadless’ rules, or is just way too damn ugly to have that many supporters naturally. Threadless management long ago gave up any slavish adherence to the outcome of their online voting. They use the results as a guide, but they make the final deicsion. The managers, whose careers are decided based on the sales of the shirts. The managers. Period.
NASA has the same option. They’ve already written into the contest rules that the outcome of the contest is non-binding. No duh. So, you mean, maybe they didn’t need to have named the first shuttle Enterprise after all?
NASA, think about the intention of the contest first, rather than simply the outcome.
Nevermind that a Congressman is calling for a “democratic” result that names the multi-billion dollar machine after a TV comic. Well, at least the contest is garnering publicity. With that mission accomplished, NASA now needs to show who’s boss.
So NASA, please, do the right thing. Use your power, use your integrity and name the shuttle properly.
Name it something catchy, something powerful. Maybe after a great astronomer or scientist. Or something high tech and wonderful.
I know, NASA. You can name it the Netnography.