How do we get the public involved with space travel?

By Phil Plait | September 11, 2007 8:23 pm

Bob Mahoney, in his article in Space Review, understands that it’s easy to promote space to the public. But how do we get them actively engaged in it?

We can’t rely on the media to do it for us, he says, and he’s right. We can do some great stoking of fires that way, but it’s still not going to get people engaged. And the media screw it up a lot (or else I wouldn’t even have this website). As he points out:

Expecting the news media to get a particular message out is not unlike asking a beloved dog to bring a package of meat to a neighbor—some semblance of the wrappings may arrive, but don’t expect the contents to have their original weight or texture.

He also points out the fact — the cold, hard fact — that NASA TV sucks. I have complained about it for years, and I’ve tried to talk to people at NASA about it, but no one listens (at least no one who has any authority in this area). NASA TV should be NASA! Rockets! Fantastic images! Daring-do and space travel! Yet watching it is like watching fingernails grow, only more tedious.

If only there were some media-savvy person who loves being on camera, is good at making complex topics accessible, and clearly is having fun and is able to infect others with that same enthusiasm! But where are we ever to find such a person?

I have a book to finish right now, but I will think on this. I have plans to do a lot more media stuff to promote astronomy and space travel, including more videos and maybe more mainstream media. But this blog is interactive, so if you’ve got ideas, post ’em. Let’s get some brainpower behind this, and see what we can do.


Comments (71)

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  1. I completely agree. I particularly agree with the comment about NASA TV. Whenever I turn to NASA TV there is always some kind of uneventful footage of a part of the spacestation with no one there.

    NASA TV should portray NASA the way it actually is. Science, technology, discovery. NASA should try to promote its self image a little better than it currently is.

  2. John Morales


    Well, this person will surely understand the art of subtlety.

  3. Grand Lunar

    I do agree that NASA TV ought to show more than it’s current program of archieve footage and shots of Earth from the ISS.

    They do good with rocket launches. I was even held in suspense with the launch of New Horizons and STEREO (unfortunately, I don’t have the channel at my current residence, so I won’t be able to see the launch of Dawn later this month).
    And the shuttle launches are always a treat.

    But these are uncommon events. The rest bogs down. Youth oriented programs are shown once in a while, but they don’t seem to hold the caliber that other science programs for youth hold (such as what Bill Nye had, which I think you once mentioned Phil in your first book).

    I myself have no idea what would be good on NASA TV. But I’m sure someone in some think-tank does.

  4. Dan

    Well, if it gets me my damn flying spacecar, I’ll kiss your feet.

  5. Actually, there’s a lot of people I’d like to send to explore space.

  6. NASA the way it actually is

    Would hours of coffee-room chats and massive C&C 3 games be better than hours of space station? :)

    Seriously though, I wish I could even get NASA TV in my little backwater.

  7. Neiman

    I completely agree. There’s a similar problem with science fields in general at almost every level; the majority of the people representing the sciences do not do a good job of demonstrating the wonder and beauty I (and I’m sure others) see when they view the world from a scientific perspective.

    I actually have various issues with the way in which not only NASA but various other parts of the scientific community interact with “outsiders.” I was originally going to be a physics major in college with the intent of heading into either astrophysics or quantum mechanics; instead, I was met with disdain for prior work I’d done and told I was not eligible to test out of any classes until I’d achieved junior standing at the school. I instead became a theatre arts major and now use my passion for physics as a resource in my other work.

    My hope is that some day artists and physicists (or someone who is a combination fo the two) find a way to ignite the passion of the world for the things we love.

  8. Quiet_Desperation

    When space exploration succeeds, we hear a little bit, but not much. How many Mars Rover shots did you see on the main news channels after the first week?

    When space exploration fails, we get “Today the $150 million dollar space probe crashed onto the Martian surface…” There’s always that price tag.

    You never hear “A study shows that the $500 gazillion Education Scholarly Enhancement-O-Rama Bill has succeeded in getting three more pencils into classrooms this semester.” or “Last year’s $900 zillion Brobdingnagian Omnibus Housing Extravaganza Bill has so far produced three condos and a lean-to.”

    Heck, even Fox News doesn’t report government failures and excesses in that manner. I wish someone would.

    There’s exceptions. The Iraq War. The Big Dig in Boston (any more multiton concrete slabs of death falling off the ceiling lately?) and a few others. Sometimes things just go so wrong that eventually a feeding frenzy develops.

    And this type of coverage will never end because true journalism is dead, and the sad, shabby ghost of a thing they call journalism these days is not up to the task of detailed reporting on complicated subjects.

  9. Quiet_Desperation

    >>> Seriously though, I wish I could even get
    >>> NASA TV in my little backwater.

    DirecTV can be your friend, then. :)

    Channel 376 if I recall correctly. I’m too lazy to go look.

  10. Mighty Favog

    How to do it? Just DO it! Make your own videos of the shows you’d like to see and post them on YouTube, and call it “Not NASA TV” or something. If they’re any good, they’ll get passed around maybe NASA will get the idea, or hire one of the better contributors.

  11. Cameron

    Carl Sagan would fit the bill nicely…Oh wait…

    Should we put this in the Classifieds? “Wanted: Person who can speak intelligently about scientific ventures on camera. Creationists need not apply.”

  12. Karnbeln

    NASA TV should show “The Eyes of Nye”. It’s far too good to remain in limbo.

    But a show from this certain unnamed someone would be good, as well. :)

  13. We get NASA TV on our DirecTV system, and I have to agree…bleh. Every night there’s a program called “ISS Mission Coverage”, and I change channels hoping there will be somebody talking about what’s going on up there. Nope. It’s just some live shot or a graphic with a brief narration every couple of minutes. What are they thinking?

    NASA’s podcasts are MUCH better. I look forward to downloading This Week @ NASA from there every week. They can be found at

    HDNet (Mark Cuban’s HD-only TV network) shows shuttle launches and landings in beautiful 1080i. Even with my “adequate” sound system, they’re breathtaking. I hope that’s making some inroads with the general public (at least the ones with HD).

  14. The only time I was ever able to watch NASA TV was when I worked early mornings at a TV station, and was able to point the satellite dishes wherever I damn well pleased, because no one else was there to stop me. The only thing I ever saw was (mediocre) children’s programming and slideshows. I figured there might be something more interesting on in the evenings, but I guess not? That’s a shame.

  15. Laguna2

    Ok Phil,
    so you want to be on NASA TV as soon as you finished the book !?!
    We got that. You have my vote, not that it would count as I don’t contribute to your Tax-Pot.
    Oh and besides. Having someone like the person you are searching for does not mean he gets apropriate airtime.
    We have such a person over here. You can see him on a 3nd class TV-station long after midnight or on a 4th class TV-station in the evening… I guess, on the after midnight show he could welcome every member of the audience personally…

  16. jmd

    The Bad Astronomy Network? Or is that too much of a misnomer?

    -astro groupie

  17. “If only there were some media-savvy person who loves being on camera, is good at making complex topics accessible, and clearly is having fun and is able to infect others with that same enthusiasm!”

    Was his name not Sagan?

  18. I have to agree that the world needs a new Issac Asimov or Carl Sagan. I’d honestly expcet that there would be more scientists ready and willing to step up for the job. How would this be fundamentally different from giving a presentation at a major conference, save that if you screw up, you can do another take.

    As someone who works in TV/Film and as a veteran of scientifically-themed seminars I have to say that the issue is not a lack of articulate or photogenic scientists. I find that the big issue is either the inability of many scientists to speak about their field without opaque technical jargon, which can be remedied by competent writers, and the tendency of many academics to come across as officious and superior, which cannot.

    This is not a trait of scientists in particular but of virtually anyone with highly specialized knowledge. However, most fields other than science consider such knowledge to be proprietary and thus members of those fields tend not to talk openly about what they know.

    This probably sounds like bitching, and to a certain extent it is, but it is also a concern about the public perception of science as a discipline. On a panel just this last week I listened to an engineer who dis-advocates the use of hydrogen as a fuel source. He had a number of valid and convincing points but I also got the feel that he considered everyone who had ever, even for a moment, considered hydrogen to be a viable source of energy to be either foolish, deluded or outright stupid. Questions regarding current hydrogen based engineering were laughed off, literally.

    I’ve seen similar behavior and methods of communication from geologists, physicists, chemists, biologists and, yes, astronomers, on numerous occasions. This is not unique to science, of course, I get the same thing when I inquire at the bank about interest rates.

    When confronted with laymen, most scientists I’ve ever encountered, default to the very means of communication that science as a method of inquiry is supposed to chagrin. They dismiss uncomfortable arguments. They propose false either/or exclusivity. They argue from authority. They are human, after all, and its so much easier, and often necessary if given limited time to speak, to simply say, “trust me,” or find a way to evade explaining the details of years of education, research and experimentation to someone who is not literate in that field, than to try and educate that person.

    That’s where I do have to compliment you, Phil. Your blog and videos are a credit to the field of science education. I really do wish there were more like you doing this kind of thing. A number of industries have, in the past, deliberately affected a change in the world view of their constituent members. The last 25 years in telecom is an obvious example. Can we hope for it in the scientific community, yes. Do I expect it, no. So, we wait for the next Carl Sagan.

  19. JackC

    For presentation, Neil de Grasse Tyson is ALMOST there.

    As far as NASA-TV goes – I just don’t know what anyone expects. No matter what they put on, it will upset someone. Let’s face it – it is terrifically exciting to be there – but only in concept. The day-to-day work up there is mostly moving things around and performing observations or experiments in a box. I have seem some pretty good shows, and I have seen some real stinkers on NASA-TV. But almost any of them beats the heck out of nearly anything on the Discovery Channel.

    Personaly, I can watch Earth views from space for hours. It is only boring when you forget where you are.


  20. Ozastro
  21. We’ve got him, sorry about that, you yanks can have him when we Brits have finished with him. (Adam Hart-Davis)

    I’m quite enjoying his series “The Cosmos, a Beginner’s Guide.”

  22. BigBob

    Gripe alert.
    Only tenuously on topic but …
    In 2005 we took our first holiday in the states. Bought annual passes at the Kennedy Space Centre Visitors Centre for a family of five, so we could drop in to KSCVC as many times as we liked during our 2 week stay. It cost an arm and a leg but was worth every cent cos it was incredibly, unbelieveably awesome.
    Back home in Britland we hoped KSCVC would ‘keep in touch’. I know they sent us a magazine once, then nothing. Wait, they send me an e-mail every time they want to sell me something, like tickets to a launch, which I can’t attend because, as they know, I’m in Britland. Why don’t the folks who market KSCVC talk to NASA and see if they can put some synergy into marketing?

    Having said all that, they are some two orders of magnitude better than the European Space Agency who give you *nothing*, tell you *nothing*, and make like they don’t know why anyone would be interested their endeavours in the first place.

  23. Just Al

    Simple answer: NASA is a government-funded agency that does not obtain any significant funding from the public. Presentation, excitement, explanation, getting people involved – all that takes time and money, that has to come from an already-meager budget that does not include enough for PR. Missions are getting axed because there’s not enough to go around – imagine how many more would vanish if NASA felt the need for a team of CGI people.

    Right now, their funding gets approved if and when they can show the benefits to Congress. A tiny little part of this convincing is public support coming to individual congressmen. So, in the long run, while there is a benefit to NASA to gain public interest, it is relatively small, and totally out of proportion to the amount of effort it would take to generate it. And, to put the final touch on it, it would have to be within the budget Congress approves in the first place. In other words, “Can we have some money to convince you to give us more money?”

    NASA generates significant packages for the press, only to have them cherry-pick a particular element out of it all, then misrepresent it. It’s no wonder, as Mahoney says, NASA makes the effort to present things in only a positive light. The space shuttle, a few million parts of extremely fine tolerances intended to operate in the most demanding conditions we can reach, is considered by most to be an overpriced accident waiting to happen.

    What’s really needed, quite simply, is a private, for-profit organization to see that space exploration can generate interest (called “money”) and put their own efforts into popularizing the space program. NASA can work with things like that, as has been demonstrated before.

    So, third big project for Phil shouldn’t be a book, it should be a screenplay… 😉

    (Not to put any pressure on our Bad Astronomer – anyone can play, really)

  24. Lauren

    I agree with Ozastro. I think Pamela and Fraser have been doing a good job with Astronomy Cast. Their show is interesting and easy to understand. NASA TV should be taking some notes from them.

  25. Alan

    I think Phil & Co should try to hook up with the X-Prize people. They seem to be the top dogs in this area of privatized technological advancement. Plus they have money.

    X-Prize TV?

    If you try to do anything interesting with NASA TV, you’ll get shut down immediately if anything is counter to the Administration’s policy. Who wants to deal with that nonsense?

  26. PerryB

    I got home in time to turn on NASA TV and watch the STS-118 launch.

    It was one of the cleanest video signals I’d ever seen for a shuttle launch.

    From liftoff thru booster separation and External Fuel Tank separation – they went back and forth from tracking station video to video from a camera on the External Tank. Beautiful footage from all cameras.

    I especially liked the view from the camera on the External Fuel Tank – watching the atmosphere thin and the sky go from blue to black.

    One thing that disturbed me was the announcer called off all the launch milestones in “English Units” – ‘Miles per Hour’ and ‘Miles Down Range’ and ‘feet per second’.

    I appreciate that the average listener to NASA TV wouldn’t know what it means to hear that the Endeavour was passing 100 kilometers altitude, but I’d like to see NASA set a good example.

    I have chaffed for years with the US continuing to use a 13th century measurement system in the 21st Century. (Although to be fair the SI system dates to the 19th Century, but heck that IS some progress!)

  27. Richard B. Drumm

    Well put, Al, well put.
    NASA did, however, see the benefit to EPO when there was a huge public outcry at the pending demise of the Hubble. The public put pressure on the politicians and they put the pressure on NASA. Unfortunately, the politicians didn’t put any more money with the pressure (somebody correct me if I’m wrong). Thus NASA learned that:
    1. EPO works.
    2. EPO can backfire if the politicians don’t fork over cash.
    Of course they already knew the first half of #2 because of the disastrous results of their EPO stunt involving Christa McCauliffe! Yikes!
    So maybe it’s not surprising that EPO gets lip service and little else…
    Maybe ESA has already learned this lesson from NASA…

    I suspect that Mrs. BA wouldn’t want to relocate to Florida so soon after moving to Boulder…

    How about writing “Contact II” as that screenplay? You are possibly the only person who could fill Carl Sagan’s shoes.
    Whatcha think?
    Richard B. Drumm
    Vice President
    Charlottesville Astronomical Society

  28. Richard B. Drumm

    The “Al” I referred to was “Just Al” BTW…

  29. Edward Cohen

    How about Walter Cronkite?
    He seemed very excited during space launches.

  30. I’d say this was a pretty good idea:
    Shuttle Astronauts Honored at Walt Disney World

    The article doesn’t mention it specifically, but Nasa has a temporary exhibit with interactive kiosks set up at Epcot right now as well.

  31. I’m not completely convinced we should try to interest people in space travel. Space research, yes, but travel I’m not so sure about.

    For the cost of a shuttle launch (about 1 billion dollars per launch from what I’ve read) we could send up 6 or 8 unmanned probes. What makes more sense? One billion dollars for two weeks of people in space, or one billion dollars for 6 unmanned probes that could operate and gather data for years?

    And when a probe fails we decry the loss of millions of dollars. When a shuttle blows up (which does happen from time to time) we lose lives in addition to all those dollars.

    Are humans really accomplishing such great things when they go into space that they need to be there?

  32. 1. Neil deGrasse Tyson
    2. Demaris Sarria’s “How I am Becoming an Astronaut” blog
    3. Do any current astronauts blog?
    4. Or even better: NASA TV is disappointingly boring. But I imagine the stuff that looks “boring” while viewed through that venue might be far more interesting twittered. Is there anyone twittering from/about NASA?

  33. JohnFrum

    Mark Cuban over at HDNet is always looking for new programming ideas

  34. wheresmytab

    NASA obviously has a few media savvy people on the payroll. See ie the Return to the Moon “trailer”. That gave me goosebumps despite my dubious outlook on the scientific merits. I definitely felt myself being “spun”. Lets get these people out of the animators dungeon cubicle and over to NASA TV production studio.

  35. OtherRob

    “…imagine how many more would vanish if NASA felt the need for a team of CGI people.”

    But doesn’t NASA need the CGI people to fake another moon landing?

  36. yoshi

    When I see a billion dollar airplane that costs a few hundred million to put into space, requires heavily educated men and women with years of training (if not decades), and it receives a 3 inch hole because of some foam we know its going to hit it – my first (and usually only) thought is – mothball it and the space station. Not today, not tomorrow, but now.

    When I see Burt Rutan put a “much less than a billion dollar” airplane into space with players that don’t even hold so much as a college degree in basket weaving and it comes back down without a 3 inch hole and – my first thought is “kewl. this is the future.”

    NASA is a government organization with no direction and is just a pit that congressmen use as toys for their districts. You will not get the public interested in it.

  37. Keith

    I would love, love, love a Bill Nye-style show on astronomy and space exploration. If it was hosted by Neil de Grasse Tyson, even better. I could watch that man talk about folding socks. The few times he’s been on Colbert have just been just fun as hell.

  38. Miranda

    Neil deGrasse Tyson is an excellent choice, I agree!

  39. Terry Koberstein

    I agree NASA TV is very boring. There are bright spots in promoting science. The lead up and the coverage of the Mars Rovers has been very exciting. In my mind Steven Squires became an awesome figure whose role in the adventure had me in awe. Some one must have coordinated a major public relations effort on this, we had numerous events here in the San Francisco Bay area focusing on the landing and exploration, at the Exploratorium and at the Chabot Space &Science Center. They had internet video casts, which is the real new media focus. National Video networks are becoming passe. The real excitement is in pod casts, Blogs, My Space, web sites. I think the web sites put out by the major space exploration missions are very well done and full of great content. NASA TV should pull from the resources that generate these.

  40. zeb

    I’d do it, except I’m not well known. I like popularizing science. The thing is, people are too used to watching Star Trek and other sci-fi programs, they get incredibly bored by real life space travel. There just isn’t that much exciting stuff that happens. For example, a space shuttle launch takes about 5-10 minutes to get into orbit (I forget how long exactly). How much happens in a typical Star Trek episode in that amount of time? Sure, it’s incredibly thrilling to actually do it, but watching on TV just can’t capture it.

  41. Quiet_Desperation

    >>> NASA is a government-funded agency that does not
    >>> obtain any significant funding from the public.

    Well, technically, a government funded agency gets *ALL* it’s funding from the public.

  42. Gary Ansorge

    The best place for a techno civilization is anywhere but a planetary surface.

    In the early days of rocket launches, private enterprise was not only discouraged from entering the field but actively prohibited, because rockets were potential doomsday devices which the gov. felt was its sole prerogative. With advances in technology, from the ideas for space elevators, to mag lev launchers to ground based laser launchers, the playing field has begun to mature into something business can deal with. Eventually, we will create Solar Power Sats, asteroid resource recovery businesses, lunar resource exploitation, and space colonies. Unfortunately, it probably won’t be accessible in my lifetime.
    However, I have great hope for the eventual dispersal of human and other earth life beyond this small, blue planet. I just hope it happens soon enough to preserve most of the bio-forms with which we’ve been gifted. I would really miss the great cats,,,(amongst others).

    SciFi has been the only literary form ever to stimulate interest in the high frontier. Transferring that sense of wonder to the real world is the task of the informed intelligentsia. It’s about time for another Carl Sagan to step up to the plate and the only one with which I am familiar is our esteemed BA.

    Perhaps a show which contrasts real space conquests with our beloved SciFi could hold the average viewers attention long enough to get some hard core science across.

    GAry 7

  43. K

    NASA doesn’t care. They have that government mind-set that they’re too good to care, they’re NASA, afterall.
    How many people come to Florida and go to KSC? They come to see Disney and Seaworld and Universal, but go see some rockets? Pass. If they wanted people to get excited they would make it a bigger draw, talk about how the money is going directly into the space program and people would feel like they’re making a difference and then, and this is the tricky part that greedy grabby hands can’t seem to do, actually put the money into the space program.
    And how ancient are those tired old shuttles now? We need new space ships and new hype and new missions. NASA effectively closed out the general public with their lame-o tv station and by doing missions with no clear goals for the general public to see. Unless you really hunt online all you know is that the shuttle is going up, may or may not do something useful, will cost the tax payers a ton, pollute the atmosphere, and there’s the risk of the foam killing more astronauts. Yeah, that really inspires people to support a cause. But, like I said, NASA doesn’t care.

  44. Mena

    I agree with the Bill Nye fans, he really does need a new series. Geeks rule! Maybe they can also get the Jack Horkheimer clips that I keep seeing on PBS. That would at least get people who are interested in astronomy into their back yards with information about what they should look for or what they should show their kids. I also like Shane Killian’s videos. Imagine what he could do with a bigger budget!
    I also agree that Nasa TV sucks. I don’t find hours of watching clouds (with the occasional land mass) that interesting. It would also be nice to know when stuff is on. I can look stuff up for up to a week in advance and yet it took many, many, many attempts to find the entire Mercury project 45th anniversary show. I really liked it when I was able to watch the whole thing! Something like that needs to be available, sorry people who don’t think that the archive stuff is good. That stuff happened before I was born and now I’m middle aged. A new generation or two needs to learn about it.
    Here’s something that was news in the Chicago area for a while. Apparently a baby monitor in Palatine had been picking up video from the shuttle. I don’t remember ever seeing black and white interior shots of the shuttle on Nasa TV but I was thinking that that could have been what they were picking up and didn’t know that Nasa has a tv station. At least they enjoyed it.

  45. Let’s back to the basic, people, all we need is someone who loves science and astronomy and have the time and the will to share that wonders with people around.

    I think we all can do it! why to rely on the media? with a simple telescope or binocular we can share with our neighbors (specially the young ones) what we know about the stars and the cosmos above.

    Yes, Sagan was an amazing teacher and Cosmos was an outstanding show, but we cannot sit and wait to the next Sagan appair on air.

    Of course, Phill among others are doing their best to be part of this quest, but really, we all can put or “grain of sand” to complete the beach that lead us to the cosmic ocean.

    Best regards

  46. Bradley547

    Well, what made ME a space enthusiast was every Saturday morning between the farm reports and the cartoons, they ran NASA PSAs showing the progress of the Gemini and Apollo programs. You could track in minute detail the actual progress to date of those programs, and you knew that the semi complete hardware they showed was someday going to the moon. You actually got to see something being built.
    Now all you get to see is a bunch of people floating in a can going in circles. I mean the ISS is supposed to be there for science. Do they ever actually SHOW any of the experiments? Or are there even any experiments happening at the moment? If there are, NASA is doing a poor job of letting us know.

    Maybe they should start doing weekly progress reports on the new hardware they’re building. At least then people could see progress towards a goal.

  47. Stark

    @Yoshi –

    If you think Burt Rutan’s outfit is a bunch of backyard tinkerers you are sorely mistaken. His “players” as you put it are a bunch of very highly educated, experienced, and skilled engineers. These folks have much more than a “degree in basket weaving”.

    Also, Rutan will be the first to tell you that what they have accomplished – a suborbital shot – is as much like what the shuttle does as as horse cart is like a formula 1 racer. That is not belittling Rutan’s work which has been nothing short of breathtaking… but it is baby steps compared to a vehicle that can stay on orbit for weeks at a time and perform complex manuevers while on orbit (like deploying and retrievieng satellites and docking with space stations).

    It might also be noted that SpaceShip One has had flight failures and close calls as well. SpaceShip One did not suffer any catastrophic failures but of course it’s only flown a handful of times, it’s flight envelope is much less rigorous than the shuttles and it is a far far simpler machine. But hey… otherwise it’s an equvalent comparison……

    Even Rutan’s quest for space has not been without loss of life – they had an accident while testing an engine not long ago that killed 3 folks and injured several more… space flight is risky and NASA has done an amazing job of it considering the level of the challenge. Private spaceflight will have just as many casualties in the long run.

    Back on topic… Phil, I’d pay an extra buck or two a month to have NASA/Bad Astronomy TV on my cable service! I must admit that even though it can be dull I find myslef watching NASA tv fairly often… just for the occasional nugget of space/science goodness that it does deliver. Also, with some appropriately soothing music, the footage of earth from orbit can be very relaxing… just the ticket after a long stressful day.

  48. KaiYeves

    Good idea, Cameron. I’ll fire up my time machine when I finish this post and then call you, assuming history hasn’t been horribly disfigured like last time…
    To paraphrase The Fairly Oddparents:
    “The country needs you, BA! The world needs you! I NEED YOU!”
    Um… slightly off topic, but in your minds, would the next Sagan HAVE to be an astronomer?
    Like you said, Hypatia, we can all do our part. I draw Bad Astronomy comics, and the one I’m working on now is about New Space and the X-Prize. As a major plot point, there’s a fair for the public where they can meet some luminaries and founders and examine the hardwear. If that was real, I’d go for sure. (And, by the way, I wish your name was also my name.)
    I don’t get NASA TV on TV where I live, but I watched Endeavour touch-down live on my computer. That was AWESOME!

  49. Phil, I agree with you on NASA TV. I tried to watch it a few times in my dorm but it was just plain horrible.

    We need less of that and more of this

    and more of this (I highly recommend this hard sf anime series)

    I spent an entire afternoon on Youtube once just looking at onboard camera views of different shuttle launches.

    That’s what should be on CNN when they show shuttle launches.

  50. Thank you KaiYeves, we all can do our part and we don’t have to be “rocket scientist” to do it.

    For instance, I’m a software engineer and just have the basic knowledge of astronomy, but I do my best to outreach the astronomy translating english articles for spanish speakers, (I’m a volunteer for, and also, colaborate with the team of “Are We Alone?” show (you know, SETI Institute) and Radiokosmos to translate the AWA shows to spanish.

    As I said before, I don’t have any special skills … I just have the will to do something about it… if I can do it, all you people can do it to!

    Best regards!

  51. Sergeant Zim

    Quiet_Desperation, you mentioned how the news media like to tell how much each mission costs when it fails, I’m afraid it’s even worse than that: They love to tell us even when it succeeds. As far as I’ve seen, NASA is the only news source that has the price tag attached to virtually EVERY story (I was sort of surprised that the coverage of Lisa Nowak’s cross-country drive didn’t include how much she spent for gas).

    What is REALLY needed IMHO, is a PR firm that is willing to popularize NASA on a pro bono basis (and to publicly mention THAT as well). We need some ad company that does really good work to describe the amazing Universe we live in, how we are exploring it, and the benefits we’ve ALREADY seen as a result (Maybe the company that does the Geico commercials, perhaps???).

  52. Richard B. Drumm

    That would be The Martin Agency in Richmond, Va. They don’t come cheap, though… Pro Bono? That’s giving your best work away for free, which is an anathema to production companies and ad agencies alike. It’s worth a try, though, so send them an email. Maybe they’ll bite.

    Let’s see…

    Space travel, so easy a caveman can do it!


  53. Meme

    You mean you were trying to be subtle? 😛

  54. podblack

    “If only there were some media-savvy person who loves being on camera, is good at making complex topics accessible, and clearly is having fun and is able to infect others with that same enthusiasm! But where are we ever to find such a person?” – Phil. Phil, You forgot one vital component:

    SCIENCE-savvy. There’s too much ‘I’m a groupie of science!!’ buzz going around and it’s risking trivializing the medium, let alone ending up with egg on their face when someone who has the edge with a proper education in the subject (or even able to misuse what science-training they have with more confidence) just turns the tables on them. Get the balance right. Otherwise it’ll end up like one of those Penn-interviews where the opposition just out-talks, out-smarts and outs the lack of real grounding this ‘media-savvy’ has in the subject. Don’t put your eggs into one basket that quickly.

    There’s _plenty_ of Science Communicators out there. For a start, check out the latest Skepticality Podcast for a discussion between Dr Richard Wiseman and Michael McRae (who has years of both media and Science training, has even served as a nation-wide educator and a radio host) to see how it’s really done – and hear what they have to say about striking the balance. Michael McRae and Wiseman show what we should be aiming for. Substance, not just “savvy” – because anyone can FAKE savvy with a little boldness, a few studio-tricks and some research that was Googled the night before. It won’t stand up if they do more than a few shows and we deserve better for science! :)

  55. K

    “Fox 35 breaks into our regular programming with information about the space shuttle. Who cares about the space shuttle? I don’t.”,0,2765352.column

  56. KaiYeves

    Thanks for the film, Hypatia. I had to download so much ActiveX that my head is spinning, but it was worth it.
    Well, as my Latin teacher always said “Dead silence means I agree, go ahead.”
    I asked if you thought the next Sagan would have to be an astronomer.
    From what I’ve observed, we need somebody with a glowing, bubbling personality. Check.
    We need somebody who can be both profound and humerous. Check.
    We need someone who makes serious science and history easy to understand. Check.
    Someone who is comfortable on camera and regularly appears on TV. Check.
    Someone who is not afraid to face down woo-woos and confront them with the truth. Check.
    Someone who is also not afraid if their own collegues disparage them for these media efforts. Check.
    Dr. Zahi Hawass, archeologist.

  57. I think anyone who can teach and inspire about science and scientifc thinking, no matter what his/her area of knowledge is, can make a difference like master Sagan did.
    But the issue here is how do we get public inspired with space travel, and it’s sad but true that the media is not friendly with skepticall thinking… as I mentioned before, If all of us on this forum would like to try to tell …let’s say… three people near us and just share why we love astronomy and the benefits of space exploration for all mankind then we could have a “domino effect”… I think it’s worth to try and do something, no matter how “small” it appear to be… as in the Gladiator movie I quote…”what we do in life echoes in eternity”

  58. Nick

    I agree with the comments about NASA TV. They do so many interesting things there, yet fail to cover anything of interest in their attempt at public outreach. The podcast from NASA is equally as boring (probably because it’s based on the TV coverage).

  59. Curtboy

    Just to let “K” know, when we came down to Florida from all the way up in Alberta Canada, we went to KSC as well. It was awesome! I was 9, and it got me so very interested in NASA and Space Travel. I do agree that the majority of Florida visitors don’t even look at it on the map.

    (KSC was one of the first places I “visited” when Google Earth came out!)

  60. KaiYeves

    “Master Sagan”? I always knew he was a Jedi. 😉

  61. Sergeant Zim

    Actually, Mr. Drumm, I was thinking more along the lines of:

    “I do have some good news – I just discovered a bunch of new things that can help people everywhere, by switching to NASA!”

  62. Lyle Gaulding

    Climate change, population shift, energy shortage, epidemics, ect. are going to bring the present civilization down in ruins within a few decades. What ever comes after is unlickly to ever get beyond the pesants in mud huts level. Forget about the starship Enterprise and human clolonization in space. It ain’t gonna happen.

  63. John Morales

    That’s the spirit, Lyle!

    Doom! Gloom! Woe! Alas!

  64. Gary Ansorge

    I love pesimists. It’s so much fun when they turn out to be WRONG!!!

    It’s been said: An optimist is one who believes this is the best of all possible worlds.
    A pesimist is one who is afraid the optimist,,,is right.

    This is not the best of all possible worlds. We CAN do better,,,but it will take a lot of hard work and a little,,,faith???

    Building worlds can be great fun. Jerry O’Nielle set the curve. We can run with that ball. I have fun building every concievable variety of space colony(ok, only on paper, so far). I study every idea that comes down the pike on how to get to space. IT WILL HAPPEN,,,eventually,,,humanity IS too smart, to just give up and die.

    GAry 7

  65. Hey, Phil, I wrote about you (& this topic) on my knitting blog:

  66. With that Jedi Master, who wouldn’t love to be a padawan! LOL

    what can I say… he was more than a teacher to me :)

  67. Summer

    “How do we get the public involved with space travel?”

    How can I help? To heck with waiting for some govt. meeting to decide to get us involved, how can we volunteer? I help pay for the program, how can we the people take part?

  68. KaiYeves

    Me, too. Even though I’d have to grow my hair out a bit to have a Padawan braid. I can see him with a blue lightsaber, actually. Man, I’m a geek. But I’m a HAPPY geek.

  69. Thanks, Phil, for citing my Space Review article. I’m delighted it’s still playing some part in advancing this vital issue.

    As for offering particular suggestions, I’d point everyone to review the SECOND PART of the article (, wherein I list

    a) a few very specific ideas that might improve NASA’s TV coverage (but which are applicable to different media as well),

    along with

    b) some thoughts on other media (NOT news media) avenues.

    I offered all these thoughts, knowingly limited and imperfect, as seeds that might spark even better ideas from folks more creative than I.

    BTW, the PRIMARY point of my original essay wasn’t that NASA TV sucks, although most feedback seems to focus on this (Talk about striking a chord!); I was trying to go a little deeper into WHY it does.

    Specifically, NASA (and the scientific community as a whole) rarely employ the well-understood fundamentals of EFFECTIVE STORYTELLING, those same core techniques (none requiring deception or misrepresentation, mind you) employed by Hollywood and dating from before Homer that effectively engage the public. All the “good” science shows and books that people cite DO–they succeed in getting the audience “caught up in the story,” regardless of the specific subject matter. This is why Sagan & de Grasse Tyson & Bill Nye stand out–they and their assisting writers (de Grasse Tyson is an exceptional author in his own right) masterfully employ(ed) these fundamental techniques, even in their interviews. Another exceptional example is James Burke (Connections, etc)–who, one might note, started as a reporter covering the space program.

    Good, engaging storytelling need not cost a fortune, and WE already know the subject matter is great stuff. The greatest challenge, I believe, is getting past (or around) the small-minded marketing people (and numerous others occupying similar hurdle-creating positions) who don’t think space (or science) can sell. It can–when the story gets told properly.

  70. marit

    Over here in Norway, (which is a country of only 4.5 million people and 3 national and major newspapers) the press guy for the astrophysics department at the university of Oslo is a wonderful, loveable and extremely excited geek. Somehow, (I would of course say Naturally,) he has grown to become an accessible for all knowledge-guy, who gets lots of mediacoverage for all sorts of space-events. Every lunar or solar eclipse or meteor shower or other nice accessible events that are easy for people without a lot of astronomical insight to understand, lots of people show up and stare at the sky together. I’d say it has become a bit of a national pasttime, at least in my area. Just a happy little note from the north.


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