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We *are* going to Mars, so why are we denying it?

We *are* going to Mars, so why are we denying it?

Ever since the retirement of the Shuttle and the completion of Station assembly, the most current question in the Space world has been “what’s next?“. The obvious answer in everybody’s mind seems to be “Mars“. Yet, Space organisations around the world, policy makers, and even scientists and astronauts, are going out of their way to offer reasons why Mars, while not excluded, should not be the next step. They go to great lengths to explain why Mars is not the obvious answer.

The reasons offered are logical and well founded in science, economics and politics, yet totally contradictory to actual practice. The same institutions and individuals advocating against Mars are ever more vigorously preparing for taking humans to the Red Planet.

The numbers speak for themselves: Since 1960, there have been seven flyby attempts and seven successful flyby missions; eleven orbit attempts and eight successful orbit missions; seven landing attempts and eight successful landings on Mars, and one on its moon Phovos. During this time, four man-made rovers have walked the surface of Mars.

No other planetary body is being looked at, measured and poked, as much as Mars is.

On this day, Mars is being orbited by three spacecraft, while an equal number of rovers are at work on its surface, all actively researching current and past conditions on the planet and resources available:

The 2001 Mars Odyssey – Artist’s impression
Credit: NASA


The 2001 Mars Odyssey has been mapping minerals and chemical elements, identifying pockets of buried water ice, measuring the surface temperature, determining radiation levels in low-Mars orbit, and supporting ongoing exploration performed by the rovers on the ground.

Spirit & Opportunity – Artist’s impression
Credit: NASA





The Spirit and Opportunity rovers have trekked for miles across the Martian surface, conducting field geology and making atmospheric observations, and have found evidence of ancient Martian environments where intermittently wet and habitable conditions existed.

Mars Express – Artist’s Impression
Credit: ESA



The Mars Express has been orbiting Mars since 2003. Its main objective is to search for sub-surface water and perform a series of remote-sensing observations designed to shed new light on the Martian atmosphere, the planet’s structure, geology and composition.


The MRO on a polar orbit – Artist’s impression
Credit: NASA



The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is seeking out the history of water on Mars, while also testing a new telecommunications system that serves as the first link in an “interplanetary Internet” between the Earth and the Solar System.

Curiosity self-portrait
Credit: NASA




The Curiosity rover, a full-blown laboratory, is analyzing samples scooped from the soil and drilled from rocks of Mars, to detect chemical building blocks of life (e.g., forms of carbon) on Mars and assess what the Martian environment was like in the past.



Only two weeks ago, India launched it’s first mission to orbit Mars, the Mars Orbiter Mission and, as these lines are being written, NASA is preparing to launch the MAVEN spacecraft which will explore the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere, ionosphere and interactions with the sun and solar wind in an effort to acquire insight into the history of Mars’ atmosphere and climate, liquid water, and its habitability.

And there’s still more to come.

Elements of the ExoMars program 2016-2018
Credit: ESA

ESA, in partnership with Roscosmos, has now embarked on an ambitious long-term robotic exploration programme, called ExoMars. An ESA-led orbiter – the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter – capable of tracing methane in the Martian atmosphere, will be launched in 2016, followed by the Agency’s flagship ExoMars rover, in 2018. ExoMars will have the ability to drill up to 2 metres beneath the Martian surface searching for chemical evidence that might have been preserved from solar radiation.

Also in the near future, NASA’s InSight mission will place a single geophysical lander on Mars to study its deep interior. By using sophisticated geophysical instruments, InSight will delve deep beneath the surface of Mars, detecting the fingerprints of the processes of terrestrial planet formation, as well as measuring the planet’s “vital signs”: Its “pulse” (seismology), “temperature” (heat flow probe), and “reflexes” (precision tracking).

Clearly, mankind has been going, and is still going to Mars! The scientific objectives  of all the above missions may vary in their specifics, yet they all seem to be pointing to the same general goal: sustainability of life on Mars. “Life as we know it”, that is.

At the same time, back on Earth and in orbit,  numerous experiments are being performed researching and advancing human ability to withstand long duration space flight from a physiological and psychological perspective. Mars spacesuits are being built and tested. And desert or arctic locations are being used to simulate the inhospitable environment of the Martian surface.

Finally, institutions and industry are racing to develop the technical capabilities to launch us beyond LEO and into the Solar System. NASA next space vehicle, for example, is being built with the explicit parameter of being able to carry humans to Mars.

All the pieces of the puzzle are pointing in one direction: The commitment to put humans on Mars has already been made. The denial phase is over. Let’s move into acceptance.


Additional sources: NASA’s Mars Exploration ProgramThe Planetary SocietyWikipediaRussian Space Web 


Scott Carpenter – A tribute to a curious but ordinary superman

Scott Carpenter – A tribute to a curious but ordinary superman

“Conquering fear is one of life’s greatest pleasures and it can be done in a lot of different places.

– Scott Carpenter, May 1st 1925 – October 10, 2013-

Scott Carpenter, a curious but ordinary superman. Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Scott Carpenter, a curious but ordinary superman.
Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com


One of only two remaining Mercury Program Astronauts from the 60’s, Scott Carpenter, sadly passed beyond the veil on Thursday October 10th 2013 following a stroke in September. He was 88 years of age. Carpenter was one of the earliest pioneers in the infancy of the Space Age. He was the 2nd American to cross the threshold into orbital space on his MA-7 “Aurora 7” spaceflight and the 6th man overall.  He also held the unique distinction of being not only an astronaut but an aquanaut following his NASA career in the US Navy’s various Sea Lab projects.

For each last step, there is a first step. Born in Boulder, Colorado, USA on May 1st 1925, Malcolm Scott Carpenter was impressed by planes at the age of 5 when his father took him to his first airshow. His love of flight grew as he continued to build and fly model balsa wood plane kits as a boy. He gained a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Colorado, before entering flight school with the US Navy at Pensacola Florida and Corpus Christi Texas. After the Korean War where he flew aerial anti-submarine surveillance and patrols, Carpenter enrolled at Patuxent River’s Navy Test Pilot School in Maryland. Following this, he was assigned as an Air Intelligence Officer on the USS Hornet. During this time he received special orders to report to Washington DC for an unnamed meeting. That meeting led to his selection in Project Mercury on April 9, 1959, which was instituted as the newly formed NASA’s first step to catch up to the Soviets who had taken an early lead in the rapidly escalating Space Race.

What followed is fabled history. The exhaustive raft of testing of 110 candidates down to what are now known as the “Original Seven” and Carpenter formed part of that elite fraternity of Mercury Astronauts. Their every move was recorded and lauded by the public at large as the nascent American Space Program took its initial steps forward. Due to his communications and navigation experience Carpenter was back-up on his good friend John Glenn’s orbital flight. Upon launch, as Glenn cleared the tower, Carpenter’s words of “Godspeed John Glenn” were recorded and have echoed through the years of spaceflight history. Carpenter repeated this goodwill message when Glenn went into orbit again aboard the Shuttle in 1998.

The brotherhood of the Original Seven. Front row, from left, are Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Donald "Deke" K. Slayton, John Glenn Jr., and M. Scott Carpenter. Back row, from left, are Alan Shepard Jr., Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, and Gordon Cooper. Credit: Discovery News / CORBIS

The brotherhood of the Original Seven. Front row, from left, are Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Donald “Deke” K. Slayton, John Glenn Jr., and M. Scott Carpenter. Back row, from left, are Alan Shepard Jr., Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, and Gordon Cooper.
Credit: Discovery News / CORBIS

On May 24, 1962, Carpenter’s own flight dubbed “Aurora 7” launched and completed 3 orbits of the Earth. His mission; to prove a human could work in space. This was an important link in the chain of events which ultimately resulted in a manned landing on the moon just 7 short years later. For the first time he demonstrated humans could perform tasks, experiments, communications, navigation and eat solid food in space. Due to some technical faults, inadvertent errors during the mission, all of which Carpenter compensated for, Aurora 7 came home safely but overshot the target landing zone due to fuel mismanagement during the mission. He was found by rescuers almost 5 hours late, 1000 miles southeast of Cape Canaveral, coolly relaxing in the life raft alongside his spacecraft.  Ever the gentleman astronaut he even offered his rescuers food and water from his survival kit.

The launch of Scott Carpenter on Aurora 7. Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

The launch of Scott Carpenter on Aurora 7.
Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Looking out for John Glenn's fireflies... Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Looking out for John Glenn’s fireflies…
Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Carpenter, awaiting recovery after splashdown. Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Carpenter, awaiting recovery after splashdown.
Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

As with many space explorers who are comfortable with the risk of space exploration, Carpenter had remarked that his mission realised a long held dream and that “This is something I would gladly give my life for.” In today’s modern world of Google Earth and armchair exploration, we should remember that back then it took a special kind of person to ride fire into the heavens to expand knowledge at risk of their own life. Unlike many of his Mercury astronaut peers who were recovered and debriefed after their space shots relatively quickly, Carpenter had time for introspection and reflection on the events and meaning of his experience on Aurora 7. Carpenter was also blessed with a curious and philosophical mind. Peering through the small periscope of Aurora 7 into the endless night outside, Carpenter remarked,

“From that view … you are a long way away. Everything you see gives you satisfaction of the expectation which involves curiosity. The most important driver in everything we did then was curiosity. Can we make machines do this? Can we put our bodies through this? It’s revelatory. Addictive. Beautiful beyond description. To have been in space is very satisfying of one’s curiosity. It’s instructive. It’s marvellous.”

At the time, some may have perceived those comments and qualities to be extraneous for a test pilot / astronaut, favouring engineering rigour and zero margin of error during those early missions.  Consequently, Carpenter never flew in space again. In later years his curiosity and philosophical mind have become more appreciated by his peers.

Following NASA, Carpenter’s curious mind to banish unknowns led him to meeting with the French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau. He saw many parallels, between deep space and the deep ocean, with transferable skills, technologies and parallel experiences. But more personally for him, like with his Mercury flight, working beneath the waves to satisfy his curiosity would remove any “unreasoned fears”, just as he had done above the clouds on Aurora 7. As part of the Navy’s Sea Lab II experiment, Carpenter spent 30 days in spring 1965 on the ocean floor of La Jolla as an aquanaut, proving humans could survive in this environment.  At one point during his time under the waves, he even spoke by phone to the crew of Gemini 5 orbiting far overhead. Old Mercury Seven buddy Gordon Cooper was no doubt happy to hear him. His work on the ocean floor has yielded cross benefits for NASA too as Carpenter became the Navy/NASA liaison for underwater zero gravity training – or neutral buoyancy, which has become mandatory for NASA EVA astronaut training. For this work, Carpenter was awarded the Navy’s Legion of Merit medal.

Carpenter on top of SEA LAB II shortly before being lowered to the ocean floor where he stayed for a month. Credit: Discovery News / CORBIS

Carpenter on top of SEA LAB II shortly before being lowered to the ocean floor where he stayed for a month.
Credit: Discovery News / CORBIS

In his later years after retiring from the Navy, Carpenter had remained active on various projects utilising his aerospace and oceanic engineering expertise. From enhancing ocean resource usage, to consulting on underwater, diving and submersibles, and lecturing on the future of technology developments and impacts Scott Carpenter had continued to actively contribute to the quality of our lives here on Earth.  Not stopping there, he had also authored three books, one of which is his memoirs “For Spacious Skies” which he wrote with his daughter Kris Stoever. Carpenter remained a staunch advocate of manned spaceflight, and pushing our exploration to Mars.

“We need a goal other than the International Space Station. We need to get cracking on a manned flight to Mars, because that is going to capture the interest, support and imagination of people who pay for spaceflight…We need to go to Mars… Mars is interim, but for now that is a goal that NASA and the country and the planet can live with enthusiastically.”           

Looking back, Carpenter remarked that he and John Glenn bonded over common interests, mutual respect and being Air Force boys. Upon hearing of his great friend’s passing, the last remaining torchbearer of that age, Mercury astronaut John Glenn paid tribute with his friend’s simple words and remarked “Godspeed, Scott Carpenter.” Carpenter himself has said that he believes he is very fortunate to have lived life during a time when there were so many unknowns to be solved during this century. That had pleased him immensely as he was always a very curious person and he has had a lot of satisfied curiosity in his time.

Brothers in Arms; Carpenter (left) and John Glenn (right). Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Brothers in Arms; Carpenter (left) and John Glenn (right).
Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Meeting Scott Carpenter at Spacefest V in May 2013 in what turned out to be his twilight months, was a special privilege and for myself, the highest honour, to meet a member of the Original Seven. Meeting Scott himself, who truly understood the wider more nuanced experiences of manned spaceflight, the continuing importance of manned exploration and the questing nature of humanity, was even more special to me. The hallmark of his character, curiosity, still burned brightly in his alert eyes even though his health was visibly failing. I briefly asked him about what lessons he has taken with him on his explorations of the ocean and space into his life. Scott merely whispered, as if sharing a secret;

“Be led by your curiosity. And never forget the fun of learning and discovery. It can take you places you have never dreamed”.

Curiosity brought us here. Scott Carpenter and myself. Credit: Amjad P. Zaidi

Curiosity brought us here. Scott Carpenter and myself.
Credit: Amjad P. Zaidi

Words from a curious but ordinary superman that will stay with me forever. May fair winds be at your back Star Voyager for you have returned to the place where we all came from. You are stardust.  We thank you for your bravery, your discoveries, your humanity and your continuing inspiration.

Godspeed, Scott Carpenter.

Scott Carpenter and his children. His legacy. Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Scott Carpenter and his children. His legacy.
Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com









LADEE, first flight to the moon from Wallops Flight Facility

Of course everyone reading this knows about the #NASASocial event for the launch of the LADEE mission to Lunar orbit happening this week on Thursday (9/5) and Friday (9/6).  Follow NASASocial/lists/ladee-launch-social plus @NASA_Wallops, @NASALADEE, @NASAAmes, @NASAGoddard, and also @LRO_NASA for updates.

A nice piece of Wallops history was raised by @TeresaR_WV: “Explorer 9 was the first spacecraft placed in orbit by an all-solid rocket and the first spacecraft successfully launched into orbit from Wallops Island.” (1961, NSSDC).

The LADEE social will be covering a huge range of subjects, including the following.

The LADEE mission will be collecting data on the Lunar Exosphere, specifically tightening the boundaries on gas and dust types and quantities found at altitudes under 50 km so that future work can develop an understanding of the surface boundary exospheric processes that occur on inert rocky bodies like the Moon and Mercury. And the LADEE mission will be flight qualifying the LLCD free space optical communications link. Data collection in the Lunar Exosphere will employ three instruments.

The Neutral Mass Spectrometer (NMS) determines captured (Lunar Exosphere) gas particle types (element) using a kind of electromagnetic filter called an RF Quadrupole or Quadrupole mass analyzer, or Mass Spectrometer. Instruments very similar to this one have flown on many deep space missions including CASSINI. In determining gas types with fairly high frequency (many per second), gas quantity and distribution can be determined over time.

The Ultraviolet – Visible Spectrometer (UVS) will determine observed (Lunar Exosphere) gas types by the characteristic electromagnetic emission spectra of gas particles impacted by solar radiation. It is also capable of a few additional modes (that I haven’t groked yet) that provide information about gas and dust processes in the exosphere.

The Lunar Dust Experiment (LDEX) captures larger “dust” particles to determine composition and distribution over time, not entirely unlike the NMS. Also not entirely unlike the NMS, it employs an electromagnetic process to do so.

The NMS and LDEX are forward facing, while the UVS is rearward facing, in LADEE’s direction of flight. That is, LADEE flies sideways relative to its Lunar Capture rocket engine which it points out of the way otherwise.

The NASA TV broadcast schedule includes events on Thursday and Friday.

September 5, Thursday

10 -11:30 a.m. – NASA Social for LADEE Mission Live from the Wallops Flight Facility – HQ/WFF (Education Channel)

3 p.m. – LADEE Prelaunch Mission Briefing – HQ/WFF (All Channels)

4 p.m. – LADEE Mission Science and Technology Demonstration Briefing – HQ/WFF (All Channels)

September 6, Friday

6-10 a.m. –Live Interviews on the LADEE Mission – HQ/WFF (All Channels)

4-6 p.m. – Live Interviews on LADEE Mission – HQ/WFF (All Channels)

9:30 p.m. – Live Launch Coverage and Commentary on LADEE Mission – HQ/GSFC/WFF (Public and Media Channels)

9:30 p.m. – Simulcast of NASA EDGE Live Webcast of LADEE Mission and Launch – LARC/HQ/WFF (Education Channel)

September 7, Saturday

2 a.m. – LADEE Post Launch News Conference –HQ/WFF (All Channels)

The LADEE Mission Pages have info for viewing the launch from the US East Coast, and most importantly how to get involved in citizen science!

The future of space outreach

NASA announced yesterday that it would suspend all public outreach and education efforts per immediately, as an effect of the sequestration measures of the US government. The original internal NASA memo that was published by our friends at SpaceRef caused an immediate outburst of disbelief and disappointment on all (non-NASA) social media channels. Although the message is clearly not a hoax, it needs to be seen what the actual effect of this message will be to future NASA events and communication, but it sounds severe enough. The spacetweep community will definitely notice.

Immediately after this announcement several discussions about the future of space outreach arose on blogs, Twitter and Facebook. Most focused on whether or not this could be true, but all soon realized it is. Some then started to focus on the implications and possible solutions. How can the space enthusiast community jump in? How will this shift the focus to other countries? And what should the outreach message be anyway? Listen in to a rather philosophical conversation I had with my UK space outreach friend Amjad Zaidi on Facebook: (more…)

NASA’s new Social Media Credentials tweetup model

Social media is one of the fastest evolving new media in society. Tools and methods seem to success each other at ever increasing rates, making it difficult to stay on top of the latest, even for the social media savvy readers of this blog. In the space community this evolution has largely been driven by NASA. After organizing the first space-related tweetup at JPL in January of 2009, NASA continued to embrace and include the social media community in its public outreach and communication strategy.

Just before the first tweetup in 2009 NASA became active on several social media platforms. It is by far the industry leading space organization on Twitter and Facebook and has set the standard on many other platforms as well. NASA TV is probably the best known online TV channel in the world.

Since the first experimental #NASATweetup events in 2009 the concept proved very successful for NASA. And despite some initial internal doubts it quickly evolved into a key new communication channel to the general public. Opening doors of facilities and events to its Twitter followers created an increasingly large worldwide community of NASA ambassadors. In April 2012 the audience was enlarged to include followers on other platforms, and the event name changed into #NASASocial.

Less than three years after the first #NASATweetup and six months after switching to the #NASASocial model, NASA is now introducing the ‘Social Media Credentials’ model. This third ‘evolution’ brings the social media community in line with traditional media. There are a few changes though. Selection of social media users is no longer random. In order to be eligible, an applicant has to meet certain criteria. Active participation on multiple channels is now a clear prerequisite. In NASA’s own words:

“Social media credentials give users a chance to apply for the same access as journalists in an effort to align the access and experience of social media representatives with those of traditional media. People, who actively collect, report, analyze and disseminate news on social networking platforms are encouraged to apply for media credentials. Selection is not random. All social media accreditation applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Those chosen must prove through the registration process they meet specific engagement criteria.” (source)

The first time this new credentials principle was introduced was for the @SpaceX Dragon launch in October 2012. The NASA social media team explained the background of the new social media credentials as follows:

“Social media users selected to attend the SpaceX launch will be given the same access as journalists in an effort to align the access and experience of social media representatives with those of traditional media. “We look at this as a natural extension and an evolution of the NASA Social concept,” said Bob Jacobs [@BNJacobs], deputy associate administrator for the agency’s Office of Communications. “Just as radio, television, and other media expanded the definition of ‘the press,’ we’re going to open our doors to influential and interested people who engage in social media activities and invite them to work alongside traditional media.” (source)

This new concept is proof that for NASA – as for society in general – social media are becoming a mainstream communication channel, and no longer something subordinate to traditional media. This means that savvy social media users and bloggers are considered as important as traditional journalists. It will be interesting to see how NASA will manage and ensure the quality of the public outreach message through these ‘citizen reporters‘. Accreditation for these social media space ambassadors is great step in the right direction. A development that deserves our support and will keep NASA in the forefront of social media integration in public outreach. Hopefully others will follow suit…

The First International Space Exploration Symposium in Japan

I will be attending a two day symposium organized by JAXA in Tokyo. The theme is Space Exploration for Humanity and the Future. It will open Tuesday October 30 at 1300, Japan time. The complete program can be found at the following address:


I will try to cover the event live on Twitter with pictures. Even if it proves difficult (power supply problems, etc.) I will write about it here later in the week.

As you can see, the philosophical aspects of space exploration will be discussed but also its future. With the attendance of top executives from Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Mitsubishi HI, SpaceX among others, we can expect some interesting talks about the commercial aspects of space exploration.

I also intend to make use of the event to contact persons interested in starting a SpaceUp or Space Tweetup events in Japan in the near future.
Anyone interested can contact me through my Twitter account @ScienceInSpace
I am looking forward to having an active exchange with my fellow Spacetweeps from all around the world.

Philippe Valdois


Judges Needed!

I was recently contacted by someone looking to find some volunteer judges for the Nano-Sat Launch Challenge, which is being run by Space Florida. One or more judges will be assigned to oversee rules compliance for each competing team. Approximately 10 volunteers are needed, and they will be reimbursed for expenses, including travel, but that’s all. To qualify, a volunteer should have some aerospace knowledge or  experience and should be able to read and interpret the challenge rules. Exact timeframes are based on when each team decides to launch. If you are unable to travel to the launch site when the time comes, another judge from the pool will be assigned, so there is flexibility. If you are interested, tweet at @flyingjenny to let me know and I’ll put you in touch with the volunteer coordinator.


@NeilTyson to host “John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon with John Logsdon” on March 5th

John Logsdon

If you are in the New York City area, you have a chance to join author John Logsdon as he traces the factors leading to President John F. Kennedy’s decision to send astronauts to the Moon and discusses Kennedy’s concerns as the massive effort unfolded. The program, hosted by Hayden Planetarium Director Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson, will conclude with a signing of Logsdon’s book, John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon.

The program “John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon with John Logsdon” will be held at the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium on March 5th at 7:30pm. Tickets are $15 and $13.50 for members, students, or seniors. Click here to purchase tickets or to get more information.

Thanks to Ellen Evaristo of the American Museum of Natural History for the information.

Best Social Media Manager Shorty Industry Award Nomination

Stephanie L. Schierholz, Social Media Manager Photo Credit: NASA

Stephanie L. Schierholz, Social Media Manager Photo Credit: NASA

SpaceTweeps for Schierholz!

Stephanie L. Schierholz (@Schierholz) is the Social Media Manager for NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, where she leads many of the agency’s innovative social media activities. Stephanie manages the agency’s @NASA Twitter account, with its 1.7 million followers, and primary Facebook page, with more than 700,00 fans. She coordinates the efforts of NASA public affairs teams to maintain these accounts. Stephanie ensures NASA remains engaged with its followers, including occasional Q&A sessions with astronauts, project specialists, scientists, and even NASA’s Deputy Administrator (@Lori_Garver).

Stephanie also coordinates with the social media managers and staff at NASA centers across the country. She leads ongoing and long-term planning efforts for NASA social media, supporting the challenging quest for resources to maximize the agency’s reach across multiple services.

Stephanie’s skill with emerging communication technologies has led NASA to establish strategic partnerships with services such as Gowalla, Foursquare, and SlideShare. Through Stephanie’s negotiation of these partnerships, she blazed a pioneer trail for NASA as the first government agency to use these platforms. Of particular note is the partnership with Foursquare, which NASA kicked off when astronaut Doug Wheelock (@Astro_Wheels), more than 220 miles above Earth, checked in to Foursquare aboard the International Space Station, unlocking the NASA Explorer badge that Earthlings now can earn by following NASA and checking in on Foursquare.

Although it cannot advertise, the space agency is legally bound by the 1958 National Aeronautics Space Act to seek the “widest practicable & appropriate dissemination of information concerning its activities and the results thereof.” Social media has proven to be a ideal tool for NASA, helping it meet the Act’s strict communication requirements. According to the L2 Digital IQ® Index: Public Sector, “NASA is the clear leader and is innovating on every platform.” As the agency’s strategic manager for social media initiatives, Stephanie charts the agency’s course and holds routine conference calls with the cadre of individuals responsible for public outreach within the agency.

Astronaut Doug Wheelock discusses his experiences living on the International Space Station during a tweetup at NASA HQ in Washington, D.C. (March 2011). Photo Credit: NASA/Paul E. Alers

Stephanie’s leadership and dedication have been instrumental to the growth and continuing success of NASA’s public outreach endeavors, in particular its @NASATweetup events. In January 2009, NASA began hosting “tweetups” for users of the social media service Twitter to provide them with VIP access to NASA facilities, speakers, and activities. Since 2010, Stephanie has taken the helm of these events at several locations across the agency, including space mission launches. To date, NASA has hosted 31 of these unique and inspiring public outreach events. Registration is open to anyone with a Twitter account, and each NASA Tweetup draws significant interest.

NASA held an incredible 17 NASA Tweetups, an average of more than one per month, in 2011. Stephanie directly supported at least one dozen of these tweetups as the primary liaison, on-site coordinator, and public point of contact. This is no small feat, considering most of the 2011 NASA Tweetup events supported spacecraft launches–logistically complex, multi-day events with a high probability of weather or other scheduling delays. The year also marked NASA’s “longest-ever tweetup” of 115 days–after repeated launch delays, the majority of the tweetup’s participants returned to see the Shuttle launch four months later. While the agency only planned to invite participants for the original launch opportunity, Stephanie advocated for their continual involvement that enabled many to see the launch from the historic press site.

NASA Tweetup participants stand at the launch clock, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011, prior to the launch of space shuttle Discovery (STS-133) at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Photo Credit: NASA/Paul E. Alers

Invited to Germany in September 2011 by DLR and the European Space Agency (ESA), Stephanie led a presentation with NASA’s Space Operations Outreach Program Manager Beth Beck (@BethBeck); the presentation shares the origin of social media at NASA, where it is going, and some of the challenges:

More than 2,500 people from across the globe have attended a NASA Tweetup and shared the experience in real-time with their co-workers, friends, family members, and other followers. An entire community of NASA Tweetup alumni has formed around these events, establishing FacebookLinkedIn, and Google+ groups and a community-owned and managed wiki for documenting and sharing tips, photos, videos, blog posts, and news media reports about NASA Tweetup activities.

The enthusiasm and dedication Stephanie brings to her communication and outreach activities, coupled with the inspirational nature of NASA Tweetup events, has led many alumni to seek opportunities to be more involved in public outreach, themselves. Alumni routinely hold speaking engagements at local schools to talk about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) topics, organize or attend aerospace-related conferences (ISDC, SpaceUp, etc.) and workshops, or become more politically active; a few alumni have even changed careers as a result of their involvement with NASA’s incredible social media and outreach activities.

I can personally attest to the level of commitment, professionalism, enthusiasm, and genuine concern Stephanie brings to bear in all her work. She has been instrumental in reaching out and embracing the public through NASA Tweetup events, numerous public speaking engagements (SxSW, L2 Social Graph, Ragan, and more) and other outreach activities. You don’t just have to take my word for it, though — here’s what some of my fellow SpaceTweeps have to say about Stephanie’s work in 2011:

@cygnusx112: Tom attended the MSL NASATweetup in late November for the launch of the Mars Science Laboratory, witnessing the start of the Mars Curiosity rover’s odyssey first-hand. The rover will land on Mars in August 2012.

Stephanie Schierholz deserves this [Best Social Media Manager] award. She does such a wonderful job and has impacted all of us so much….I was part of the Mars Curiosity Tweetup. Stephanie and her team gave up their Thanksgiving Holiday so that we could have the experience of a lifetime. When the launch date slipped a day, she had to reschedule all of the speakers and tour stops, which is no small feat. Even six weeks later I’m still a little overwhelmed at all that we got to see and experience and still processing it. The Tweetup ran smoothly and we were treated like royalty. I can never fully repay NASA and Stephanie and her team, but I can sure try by spreading the word to the world about all of the cool things that NASA is still doing.

@starlingLX: Alex attended the STS-135 Crew at NASA HQ tweetup in Washington D.C. in October.

Stephanie is a very exceptional individual and I owe one of the most exciting days of my life to her! […] Although it was only a one hour event, it was worth the trip from Germany.

@AllanManangan: Allan joined the NASATweetup family in 2011 and has now attended 3 tweetups, including the Mars Science Laboratory launch from Florida and the NASA NPP launch from California. —

The 2011 JPL Tweetup was my first NASA Tweetup experience. I met Stephanie during one of the tours, but it was just a quick introduction, because I could tell how busy she was—if Stephanie was not on her mobile tweeting, then she was gently keeping us on course as we walked about JPL’s campus. On that day I began to understand her incredible work ethic.

The rest of the year supported and strengthened my respect for Stephanie. […] NASA’s social media teams have truly taken steps towards making space more accessible for so many of us. They are just as important as NASA’s administrators, astronauts, and scientists. Stephanie Schierholz is one of the best and I support her nomination all the way.

@MTClemente: Mark also joined the NASATweetup family in 2011 and has logged a total of 3 tweetups. You may be sensing a trend here–NASATweetups are so unique and inspiring, they’re habit-forming!

I have attended three NASATweetups. The first one was for Mars Curiosity at JPL [2011 JPL Tweetup] – AWESOME! The second one would never have happened without Stephanie. I was an alternate for the final Shuttle launch – STS-135. On launch day, Stephanie allowed the alternates that made the trip down to Florida to attend. It was my first Shuttle launch and my very last chance to see one. I can never thank her enough for allowing me that opportunity and I will be forever grateful to her for it. My third tweetup was the launch of Mars Science Laboratory and Curiosity. It was a wonderful opportunity (haha) to see the launch of the rover that I was able to visit while still in the clean room. I will never be able to express in words how grateful I am to everyone on the NASATweetup teams that made these opportunities possible for me and so many others. But I’m especially grateful to Stephanie for giving me that once in a life time chance to see the final shuttle launch.

@BigE54: Elliot attended the GRAIL NASATweetup for the launch of the twin lunar-bound spacecraft in September. NASATweetup participants viewed the launch near Kennedy Space Center in Florida. —

I have some mobility issues that really acted up while I was there. Stephanie went well up and beyond in helping me out. She actually drove me back from the first launch attempt in her own car, which turned into quite a memorable ride, as Neil deGrasse Tyson (@NeilTyson) was also a passenger. She also arranged for me to drive to the next launch attempt in my own car, rather than the bus. Her extraordinary efforts on my behalf shows her level of caring on a personal level for the participants of these tweetups, and shows to me just the kind of person she is.

@therealDJflux: Andy’s first NASATweetup was NASA’s longest, but I’ll let him tell the story. He’s also a veteran of the GRAIL and STS-135 Crew at NASA HQ tweetups, both of which were also in 2011.

I am an alumnus of the STS-133 NASA Tweetup– The Never-ending Tweetup. 115 days of pure joy. If any Tweetup shows Stephanie’s commitment, hard work, and dedication as NASA’s Social Media Manager and to making NASA Tweetup a success, I believe it’s 133. Adjusting schedules and guests for us Tweeps for over 6 days for the first launch attempt in November 2010 and then inviting us to return in February 2011 with more speakers and tours and the final launch of [Space Shuttle] Discovery.  It was just amazing work. 133 changed my life.  I have, what have become, some lifelong friends as a result and I start class this coming Tuesday to complete my Bachelors degree in hopes of becoming an Astronaut Candidate and being selected to the Astronaut Corps someday soonish. 🙂

@And_Tonic: “Gin” joined the NASATweetup family in August, attending the launch of the Jupiter-bound Juno spacecraft at the Juno Tweetup.

It is hard to imagine the logistics power it takes for Stephanie and her team to get everything and everyone moving forward, especially for something as flexible as a launch.  Also, she keeps us all engaged well after our individual tweet ups. I also think Stephanie is amazing at sharing her best practices with others, whether it be other countries’ space agencies or other U.S. federal agencies looking at improving their social media presence.  She is not only a leader in space and science but also in government communication and openness.

@MaryBethHunt: Mary attended the STS-134 NASATweetup for the final launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour. The launch was scheduled for April 29, but was delayed to May 16 due to inclement weather and a subsequent mechanical problem.

We had a tornado siren and many of us were “stuck” in the press room. Stephanie was in there, too, and talked to us about how the Tweet-up worked, etc. I was very impressed with the whole Tweet-up experience, and by supporting Stephanie, I feel like I’m supporting NASA, too. We met so many fabulous people who worked there. It was such a special and memorable experience for me.

Stephanie exemplifies what it means to be the best in social media–she consistently goes above and beyond to serve NASA and the SpaceTweep community in everything she does. It is our honor to nominate Stephanie Schierholz for the Best Social Media Manager Shorty Industry Award.

PostScript (February 5, 2012):
If you still need convincing, just take a look at @Storify of the incredible community response to Stephanie’s announcement on January 30, 2012, that she is seeking a new adventure–leaving @NASA and moving to Boston to work at @Raytheon.


Supporting Materials

A Few Social Media Presentations by Stephanie:

See Also:

Space 2.0

CopenhagenSuborbitalsTriggered by the Space 2.0 LinkedIn group I wrote this blog post, investigating what 2.0 means in space exploration. It is interesting to see the 2.0-hype spread over all aspects of society these days. It is being used for anything slightly futuristic, regardless whether it is really something new. And with the widespread of the term 2.0, newer developments are now slated 3.0 or even higher. So what is ‘Space 2.0’ really?


PSA: NASATweetup Stories Needed

Attention on the Nets! 
JPL’s Veronica McGregor (@VeronicaMcG) will be on a NASA news conference Friday, November 25 at 1p.m. ET talking about social media efforts and tweetups. Veronica organized the very first NASA tweetup back in January 2009, and the news conference coincides with NASA’s 31st NASATweetup for the launch of Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) which will carry the Curiosity rover to Mars.

STS-129 NASA Tweetup Signed Poster

Photo credit: @bethbeck/NASA

The following was written by @VeronicaMcG and outlines how we NASA Tweetup alumni can assist her in making the news conference as successful and meaningful as possible:

…I want to do something to include you during the news conference — one thought is to as ask you to tweet what the experience meant to you, or something unexpected you learned, or an action you took (beyond tweeting) to spark the interest of others in space science and NASA. Many of you have done incredible things post-tweetup– letter writing campaigns to ask FIOS to carry NASA TV; creating the wiki; organizing a launch party at a local radio station or science museum. I know there are a lot of great stories out there! I want to mention some these actions plus ask you to tweet them (and I’ll explain to the audience how to view the tweets using the #NASATweetup hashtag). Other ideas? I’m open to hearing them! – Veronica McGregor

Please help get the word out about this #NASATweetup related news conference on November 25th. This is an excellent opportunity for all NASATweetup alumni to share the power and scope of the community that’s been created. Our goal is to provide live tweets during the news conference as we so often do during other live events of interest to SpaceTweeps and NASATweetup alumni.

1st European SpaceTweetup #Spacetacular!!

1st European SpaceTweetup #Spacetacular!!

On 18 September, the German Aerospace Centre (DLR, @dlr_en) and the European Space Agency (ESA, @esa) invited 60 lucky Twitter followers to the first European SpaceTweetup.  Among them some of our most prominent members, @flyingjenny, @herrea, @CraftLass, @travelholic, @amoroso, @marcozambi, @SpaceKate, @DrLucyRogers and @rocketman528. I (@akanel) was also lucky to be invited – and this was my first Tweetup ever!

The SpaceTweetup took place on German Aerospace Day at the joint DLR and European Astronaut Centre site in Cologne.  It was an amazing day, which not even the German grey and rainy weather could spoil!  …it did, of course, make our photographs a bit murky, but that’s about it!

The SpaceTweetup program was full and exciting.  So many thrills packed inside approx. 10 hours that could have easily been the object of two or more separate events.  For those who didn’t get to attend, a four hour (!) long selection of the best moments is available on ESA’s site.


Photo credit: @SimSullen

The day started very excitingly.  We visited and learned about the SOFIΑ Project (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy), DLR and NASA’s impressive airborne telescope.  Mounted on a Boeing 747SP aircraft modified by L-3 Communications Integrated Systems, SOFIA has a 2.5 meter reflecting telescope, which makes measurements during flight!  High above the disturbances caused by Earth’s atmosphere, but also easily accessible for maintenance and modifications, SOFIA combines the advantages of space telescopes, like Herschel and Hubble, with the ease of ground based telescopes.

The science done on SOFIA is planned by the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) and the Deutsches SOFIA Institut (DSI) under the leadership of NASA Ames Research Centre.  Observing mostly in the far infrared, SOFIA will be used to study many different kinds of astronomical objects and phenomena, such as e.g. star birth and death, formation of new solar systems, identification of complex molecules in space (such as organic materials necessary for life), planets, comets and asteroids in our own solar system, nebulae and dust in galaxies and black holes at the centre of galaxies, helping to answer many fundamental questions about the creation and evolution of the Universe.

SOFIA Telescope. Photo credit: @Brigitte_Ba