Featured Image: Neil Armstrong’s space suit at the Kennedy Space Center. Photo courtesy of Lance Trueb.
3 Things I Learned Behind-the-Scenes at a NASA Launch
“You guys are the ones who tell the story.”
Two weeks ago, in a small, humble auditorium tucked away in the confines of an indiscriminant building at Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Deputy Director of NASA Dava Newman fielded questions from fifty of NASA’s social media followers. Somehow, I convinced them to let me in the room.
Don’t be fooled: this warm conversationalist who made everyone introduce themselves before asking a question is sharp-as-a-tack and has the LinkedIn profile to prove it. (I actually haven’t checked her LinkedIn, but if she accepted my invitation to connect, I think I’d technically be one e-intro away from President Obama?). Prior to becoming Deputy Director, Newman was an MIT professor of aeronautics having penned enough scientific journal papers to stack from here to the moon.
Over the past few years, NASA has hosted more than 7000 of their social media fans and followers at events dubbed “NASA Socials.” The event I attended, the 126th #NASASocial, was a jam-packed three-day experience centered around the launch of the Orbital ATK Cygnus Spacecraft, the fourth resupply mission for the International Space Station.
In the auditorium, Newman was asked about the future of NASA and whether communication majors would even be considered for the upcoming astronaut job openings. Newman didn’t mince words:
“NASA is interested in all folks, not just the scientists and engineers. You guys are the ones who tell the story. In fact, I don’t call it ‘STEM’ anymore. It’s STEAMD: Science. Technology. Engineering. Arts. Mathematics. Design.”
Where NASA-Engineered Rubber Meets the Road
While plenty of organizations and their leaders wax poetic about story telling, NASA has shown the world that it knows more than just how to explore space: it has serious storytelling chops. While engineers aren’t strapping GoPro cameras to the rocket, NASA knows how to make space fans feel like they’re along for the ride.
Looking to make your stories really take off? Here are three tips to telling stories the NASA way.
1. Give Exclusive Access
I can now attest first-hand to the power of a NASA Social. This motley bunch of space enthusiasts, social media nerds (that’s me!) and everyday folks didn’t necessarily earn access. We were invited in. Yes, there was a selection process but the end result was an energized group of super fans getting access to people, places, and experiences we could’ve only dreamed of.
— Dava Newman (@DavaExplorer) December 3, 2015
2. Offer Innovative Education
“If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Albert Einstein’s famous quote was in my head while our group hung on the words of NASA’s engineers.
Everyone we encountered certainly knew their stuff (sidenote: can you imagine working in recruiting for NASA?), but these people also knew how to invite us into the conversation, regardless of our science savvy. They provide opportunities for non-technical folk to get involved all the time, such as the high school students who designed and operate a camera mounted on the space station, or student-built satellites that were launched into space.
3. Deliver Unexpected Content
Of course, you probably expect to see significant artifacts around NASA that represent pivotal or historical moments in space travel. For example, standing next to Neil Armstrong’s space suit brought me closer to space than I’ve ever felt before, and that kind of display is a classic form of storytelling.
However, did you know NASA has a Soundcloud account where you can listen to rocket launch sounds or audio recorded from sensors that can deep space noises? You may already be following current astronauts on social media as they share their photos looking down on Earth, but did know about the Spinoff App for iPad where you can learn about the research and mission technology that’s now in commercial products?
NASA is in the education business, but the content they’re consistently delivering across a variety of channels and platforms enables a depth and breadth that is rare in today’s digital landscape.
One thing is for certain: if you’re looking for inspiration to take your next digital or analog storytelling mission to the next level, NASA is a trendsetting agency to watch.