When the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) held a contest to name the Node 3 wing on the International Space Station, Comedy Central’s faux newscaster/comedian Stephen Colbert urged fans to deluge NASA with write-in votes. He won, but had to be content with a consolation prize: a treadmill with a bungee cord harness that allows astronauts to exercise in space. (Node 3, housing equipment and personnel on the space station, will be called Tranquility.)
Wyle Aerospace Group, an integrated science and engineering company headquartered in El Segundo, Calif., developed the treadmill to ensure that astronauts stationed in space for months on end don’t lose bone and muscle mass. The treadmill design allows astronauts to run without causing vibrations that interfere with delicate space experiments in adjacent labs. It also uses a bungee cord harness to hold the runner on the treadmill in the zero-gravity environment.
Colbert warned NASA that he would “seize power as space’s evil tyrant overlord” if Node 3 wasn’t named after him, but grudgingly accepted the compromise position. The Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill (COLBERT) even has its own official patch. “We don’t typically name U.S. space station hardware after living people and this is no exception,” says Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for space operations. “We have invited Stephen to Florida for the launch of COLBERT and to Houston to try out a version of the treadmill.”