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NASA Seeks to Communicate, Engage Public Better

Satellite Technology

Satellite Technology Feature Article

August 15, 2011

NASA Seeks to Communicate, Engage Public Better

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

While NASA is very optimistic on its future, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden admits the agency hasn't done a good job in effectively communicating its near-term efforts to support the International Space Station.   The agency also realizes it needs to go into high gear to interact with the public on its current and future plans.

Speaking at the NASA Future Forum at the University of Maryland on August 11, Bolden interrupted his prepared remarks to take an informal poll of the audience, asking them if they knew about NASA's plans to get cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) and how long they thought it would take for NASA to have that capability, in months or years.

Most in the audience didn't know what was going on and believed it would take years to have an American capability ready to go – impressions that didn't seem to surprise NASA's head who said the agency would “be back to the station in a matter of months.”

“That is a message that I have failed to get out, that is a message that we at NASA, that is the message that the American admin, that our administration has failed to get out,” Bolden stated. “We're months away, not years, from an American capability to deliver cargo to the International Space Station.”

Bolden went on to cite the SpaceX (News - Alert) COTS demo flights scheduled for the end of November, with the expectation “depending on how things go” that SpaceX would make its first to ISS in February 2012, with Orbital also being able to deliver cargo in 2012.

He also said he was “disappointed” at the lack of fresh faces – “those in the back, who haven't been around for the last 10 to 20 years” – in the audience, but did not discount the attendees either.

“We need your help – your ideas, your energy and your passion. What you're doing here today is very important, and I look forward to hearing more from you,” Bolden said in closing, tying into the broader themes of the Future Forum, with panel discussions between academia, NASA officials, and private industry representatives featuring technology and innovation, commercial technology transfer, and inspiring education. 

Broader interaction with the public also came up during a question and answer session after the first panel discussion. A member of the audience suggested that the biggest problem NASA has is “preaching to the choir” – established supporters – via Twitter (News - Alert) and the web. A discussion of broadening the base ensued.

“If we have a more loud choir, more people look at what's going on in the church,” NASA Chief Scientist Dr. Waleed Abdalati suggested.

NASA Associate Administrator for Education Leland Melvin pointed out he's looking at and working with non-traditional partners for promoting STEM, including a YouTube video Mary J. Blige and Donovan McNab bringing a NASA engineer to his New Jersey football camp to talk about the physics of football.

While NASA officials offered a lot of optimism for the future in closing remarks, it's clear to this reporter the agency has an uphill battle in reestablishing its former prominence.

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Doug Mohney is a contributing editor for TMCnet and a 20-year veteran of the ICT space. To read more of his articles, please visit columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell

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