Cape Canaveral, US: When Discovery flies to the international space station this week, it will deliver a new treadmill named for a TV comedian and pick up a Buzz Lightyear toy.
In another month, a wealthy circus performer will rocket to the space station. Add that to all the Twittering astronauts and Nasa suddenly has a fresh, hip look that is attracting audiences that may have ignored the space programme in the past.
“More normal folks,” the chief of Nasa’s space operations, Bill Gerstenmaier, says of Nasa’s newer audience. Gerstenmaier admits he’s a rather humdrum engineer.
Intentional or not, the stars finally seem aligned for Nasa in the pop culture department.
“It doesn’t do us any good for us just to go up there and quietly do our missions if nobody knows what you’re doing up there,” Discovery’s commander, Rick Sturckow, said in a recent interview.
The treadmill, for the record, is officially known as the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill, which spells Colbert.
Discovery and its crew of seven are scheduled to blast off early Tuesday, carrying about 7,711kg of supplies and equipment to the space station. It is the second station visit in as many months for Nasa, making it harder to drum up excitement.