Monday, September 12, 2011

Sorry, Kid. Space is Closed

The SpaceTrader Store, Sept 1, 2011
I was flying home through Houston on September 1. It was the middle of the day at the world's 16th busiest airport in the city home to NASA's Johnson Space Center. The space souvenir store was closed. It's a perfect metaphor for America's human spaceflight program: dark, disappointing and uninspiring.

At a time when Americans are desperate for actions not words, NASA boasts one of the best public affairs operations in government while the Space Shuttles are headed for museums.

The agency still launches rockets like last week's GRAIL mission. But robotic missions to space lack the inspirational potential of human beings going to space. NASA doesn't have a PR problem. It has a leadership problem. If the agency had a good mission, great destination and a capable spacecraft does anyone think the NASA PR team couldn't tell that story?

What can communicators take away from NASA's current plight? Two things come to mind.
  • Mission matters. Leaders need to provide a clear mission and the resources to make it happen before the communicators start their work. If the mission's viability or the ability to succeed is in doubt, communicators can't help. 
  • Boldness counts. The first woman on the moon will be as inspirational as the first man. Just because the destination is the same doesn't mean the mission is unworthy.
Space Age Lodge, Gila Bend, AZ.
September 11, 2011
The saddest part of all of this is that our leaders have willingly given up first place in human spaceflight. Who gives up being number one? What kid will aspire to be an astronaut when the chance that they will fly in space is nearly nonexistent? Will we train astronauts by flying them somewhere on Southwest but only let them board in the "B" group? 

Read any public opinion poll. People love the space program. They love what it's done for our country and the world. 

Too bad our leaders have reduced it's value to that of roadside attraction.

Bill Salvin

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