“You need a man on Mars.” That’s all I wanted to say to this young lady at a recent gathering of social media marketers. The event agenda centered on using Twitter and blogs to raise the profile of companies and individual professionals. Her company was hired by NASA to re-energize the American public’s interest in our country’s space program by leveraging social media through a couple of Tweets from an in-space astronaut, and maybe capture some short video clips of activities on-board the shuttle. “The only people who know what’s going on any more with NASA are nerds and geeks” – her inference being the average citizen wasn’t interested in NASA due to a lack of “outreach” on the part of NASA.
Average Joe doesn’t care because NASA isn’t doing anything noteworthy. There was a time when every rocket launch in the 60’s and 70’s was “one giant leap for mankind” and every American knew the launch date, the crew names, the mission and the risks. These days, the shuttle launch only makes the news when it fails to take off on schedule and the most interesting story about the International Space Station has been a broken toilet. True, maybe the geeks are the only people who cared about the test-tube science carried on during the mission, but American competitive spirit, combined with really big, fiery rockets captures everyone’s attention. NASA may be carrying out interesting and unique science during every shuttle mission, but the paradigm of the program has not changed in almost 30 years.
NASA has a lack of leadership; in the obvious sense that it only has an interim Administrator in Christopher Scolese and no Deputy Administrator since the resignation of Shana Dale in January, but also in that innovative, manned space flight missions have not been the priority of any presidential administration for the last 20 years. There has been no vision, motivation or demand for new programs that could possibly inspire the American people.
Now NASA is hiring marketing firms to engage Average Joe during shuttle sorties while scrapping plans to build a moon base. But Average Joe doesn’t Twitter.
You know who else doesn’t Twitter? The Mars Rover. It isn’t sentient but it doesn’t need to be because every piece of dirt it sifts through makes the evening news and people pay attention. You know why people are interested? Because it’s a robot on Mars, man!
People will talk about success and failure. Right now, the shuttle program is neither.