Stephen Colbert, The Moon and Mars

The character Stephen Colbert plays on The Colbert Report may be a satire of the modern ideologically driven cable news host, but Stephen himself seems to enjoy more existential fare.

Colbert attended a premiere screening of In the Shadow of the Moon at the Museum of Natural History in New York last Wednesday. The film examines the Apollo missions through the eyes of the astronauts that participated in them.

In the hallway leading into the theater were photos of the planets and some of the more interesting moons in our solar system (Sorry Thyone, clever name, but you will have to be more like Europa or Io to get a shot).

I was examining a photo of Europa when Stephen and his family entered the hallway. He stopped dead in his tracks a few feet in front of me, “Olympus Mons!” he said excitedly, referring to a photo of the massive volcano on Mars, three times taller than Everest.

He walked over to the Mars photos and went on to explain to one of his sons about Opportunity, one of the rovers that have been on the surface of the red planet for the last three and a half years. He seemed knowledgeable about the subject; all I could do was crack a smile.

Rover Opportunity on ‘Cabo Frio’ with simulated color (photo-NASA/JPL/Cornell)

Colbert, despite his prickly TV persona, is no stranger to science. The son of a doctor, avid D&D player and a big fan of science fiction growing up (which influenced him in the creation of one Tek Jansen), Colbert frequently has scientists and science related guests on his show, including the Museum of Natural History’s own astrophysicist in residence Neal deGrasse Tyson (who also hosts NOVA ScienceNow on PBS)

In a media world full of know-it-alls, it is refreshing to see a host who actually likes to learn new things about the world and universe around us. Even if his character prefers to think with his gut. To see what Stephen Colbert "the character" thinks of DNA, check out this video.