This, in my opinion, and it is only one person’s opinion, is how NASA misses the boat in reaching out to the public at large and much more importantly how NASA might consider altering its approach.
It has often been said that NASA’s PR is its own worst enemy and I believe this may well be the case.
As an example, take NASA TV. It is carried on many, if not most cable TV providers. Is it exciting to the general public? Is it informative in the manner of Discovery channel, the Science channel or the Smithsonian channel?
I must cast my vote as a resounding NO! It is often as boring as watching paint dry. Long silences followed by occasional bland statements offered in a voice as dry as toast is usually the order of the day.
Even during the drama of a countdown to launch, the public is left with long silences, punctuated by a few words of what is going on in a manner reminiscent of preaching to the choir.
A running commentary, with informed guests, in the manner of several of the streaming media outlets might well help change its image and make NASA TV the “go to” place rather than SpaceFlightNow or others for coverage of spaceflight activities.
Back in the day, people of the stature of Walter Cronkite kept all of America enthralled with our first tentative steps in space culminating in our landing on the moon. His, “Oh boy!” said it all. He helped us hold our collective breaths and pray for the safety of the crew of Apollo 13. NASA TV could, and should, be as meaningful to the public now as CBS was then.
In contrast, I think I have heard every PAO statement during a launch saying almost the same thing with maddening formulaic content. Something like, “Lift off of STS 123, building our future in space”, or something as equally banal, repeated every time a shuttle clears the tower. It is almost as if there is a fill-in-the-blanks statement to be fed to the public. It is probably, with all due respect, written by folks with little no imagination. Or perhaps worst yet, confined by bureaucratic rules of what may or may not be said.
I suggest that NASA might want to consider spending a small percentage of its annual budget to polish its media image. Prime time shows featuring leading scientists with moderators of the stature of Miles O’Brien, formerly with CNN, might be a start. People
known and respected by the general public, space flight proponents like Ron Howard or Tom Hanks discussing the impact of space exploration on the average person, or how NASA discoveries and technologies have affected our daily lives could have a very beneficial result when the NASA budget is debated in Congress.
And, we know it is all about the dollars. One had only to tune in to some of the Augustine Committee hearings to have this driven home in spades!
Perhaps a program series titled “Spin Off” or some such to illustrate the tangible benefits derived from and through NASA. We know about the telemetry of the medical condition of the astronauts that have led to dramatic innovation in our hospitals. But do we know about how we enjoy a better tasting beer because of breakthrough developments in filtration techniques developed during Gemini and
Apollo? There is enough stock footage in the archives to last from now on to graphically illustrate telecasts of how are lives have changed, for the better, because of the space program.
NASA TV should be leading the way, not Discovery, and not the Science channel. NASA TV should be, and must be, the foremost venue for spreading the message. And that message must be the imperative need to fund the exploration of our solar system and the eventual exploitation of the riches of our neighboring celestial bodies.
What have we learned from the Lunar samples brought back by the Apollo astronauts? We know much, much more about our own earth, more about the formation of our solar system than we could have ever known without the hands-on examination of those few pounds of lunar samples. Yet, we leave it to those who say, “We spent 20 billion dollars to bring back a couple of hundred pounds of rocks,” to dictate and deride the importance of the science behind Apollo. Yet even if the only benefits were the science and knowledge gained by those samples, you and I know that the 20 billion dollars expended provided much, much more than a few rock samples and what they tell us. Those monies provided jobs for thousands of people and new science and scientists. It provided meaningful changes in our daily lives. And the real story has not yet been fully told.
We continue to allow those who deride the benefits of space exploration to have the last word.
For lack of a concerted media message, on target, told by personalities known and revered by the public, Hollywood luminaries and others with a clear and concise story to tell, we will continue to fail in telling the story of mankind’s greatest adventure.
And I submit that this is one of the major reasons why NASA’s budgets have and will continue to suffer.