Bringing the Kids Back to the Show: NASA Using Social Media

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut. Hell, when *you* were a kid, you wanted to be an astronaut. Then, one day, we grew up and realized we were destined for more traditional careers like lawyers, accountants or *gasp* social media consultants. Yeah, we didn’t end up quite as sexy as we hoped we would in those days of being of single-digit age.

Today, my son and I watched Shuttle Discovery land online at NASA TV. He loved it and promptly said, “Daddy, I want to fly a spaceship when I get big”. I invited him over to watch after discovering that yet another NASA initiative was using social media. They were using Twitter (@STS124), in this case, to tweet the landing.

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This is not the first time in recent weeks that NASA has used social media. The Phoenix lander on Mars is still sending tweets back from the Red Planet – though we obviously believe this is some savvy user or group of users in Houston Pasadena, CA and not the lander itself.

Though NASA TV broadcasts on almost every cable or satellite outlet, no one actually turns that on – that I know of. That’s because it’s often as dull and non-compelling as CSPANs programming. However, they are using social media to capture the moments that we will one day look back on and tell our kids about are indeed inspiring the imagination of a new generation who missed out on the space race decades ago.

President Kennedy inspired this imagination on May 25, 1961 when he aggressively informed Congress that he wanted a man on the moon within the decade.

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish. We propose to accelerate the development of the appropriate lunar space craft. We propose to develop alternate liquid and solid fuel boosters, much larger than any now being developed, until certain which is superior. We propose additional funds for other engine development and for unmanned explorations–explorations which are particularly important for one purpose which this nation will never overlook: the survival of the man who first makes this daring flight. But in a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the Moon–if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.

Today, we have a shuttle launch every few months. We get jarred back to the reality of the danger of the adventure that is space with tragic accidents such as the Challenger or Columbia disasters, but soon enough, going into space becomes, yet again, a routine thing that is not all that riveting.

NASA has every intention of returning to the moon by 2020 and Russia wants to build a permanently manned lunar base by 2027. Do I have your attention yet?

In 1969, people woke up at 4am to huddle around tiny black and white televisions to watch Neil Armstrong become the first man to step foot on the moon uttering those historic words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Today, we’re huddling around internet-connected computers sharing historic space moments via uStream – where we watched the Mars Landing (SpaceVidCast not officially connected with NASA). We watched the tweet streams come in as we sensed the whole world was watching – again.

NASA is recapturing the imaginations of a generation all over again and using our tools to do it. All the kids are coming back to the show again and we all want to be astronauts. Again.

Age of Exploration 500 Years Later

In 1519, an explorer by the name of Ferdinand Magellan began a journey that would be the first of it’s kind. He would lead an expedition that would circle the globe for the first time. It would cost him his Portuguese citizenship, 219 crew members, 4 ships and even his own life. In the process, his expedition would sail through the southern tip of South America, Guam, the Philippines and throughout the Far East. It would be the first trip of its kind.

In 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark embarked on horseback from the small port town of St. Louis and headed west to explore the great unknown chunk of land gained from Napoleonic France in the controversial “Louisiana Purchase”. The Louisiana Purchase forgave millions of dollars in French debt as well as provided the critical port city of New Orleans to the United States. However, the territory came with millions of acres of unexplored land.

Notably, after two years of exploration along the Missouri River basin and eventually finding the Pacific Ocean, they returned bringing information and intelligence about the Natives they met and territory they explored. Further exploration would happen in subsequent years cementing the western territories as part of U.S. culture and history.

One hundred-fifty years later, in 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced to Congress that he wanted the U.S. to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade, an ambitious goal that was itself controversial. As history tells us, Neil Armstrong became the first man to lay foot on the moon on July 16, 1969 stating that, “This is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.

Amazingly, we continue to explore in our innovation. Obviously, I’m one of these geeks that gets into all the new tools and gadgets that some new entrepreneur comes up with but not everybody is. The other night, I spoke at Social Media Club DC and I compared today’s internet with the internet of 10 years ago. Ten years ago, realtime online communication carried a connotation of creepy stalker-like chats on AOL. Today, we have real time communication instantly in so many forms and on so many platforms that the lines blur.

And we don’t really think twice about it.

When I think about the explorers who have gone before us, I see that they explored and discovered and brought something back for the rest of us. Magellan told us about peoples and nations and geography that we did not know existed before. Lewis & Clark showed us just how big the United States really is. Armstrong brought space, the final frontier, to us. Everyone of these explorers added something back to society through their discoveries.

Then they all came back (Well, except Magellan who died en route to coming back). Consolidation took place.

Today we are in another innovative age. I’m proud of my friend (disclaimer: he’s also done contract work for b5media) Keith Casey. When I met him several years ago, he was a die hard developer. He mocked me for using Twitter and now uses it religiously. Today, he is the CTO for WhyGoSolo an upstart company that suddenly has the eyes of the world on them. I feel like I watched somebody grow up in front of me (Keith, no offense, man. You were grown up already)

At this point, I’m thinking some consolidation takes place. Sure there’s the economic consolidation (recession) that people like to talk to. But I think I see consolidation being more of a maturation of what we have. “Now the Moon has been walked on, let’s build a Shuttle and put satellites up there.”

At least that’s me.