NASA’s Brilliance in Marketing

I’ve been following NASA for a long time.  It’s safe to say that I’m a huge fan.  NASA has always had a serious presence on the internet, but one of the things that I’ve noticed in the last few months is their huge push into the new web.  Various projects are all over Twitter, and the Mars Phoenix Lander just guest-blogged on Gizmodo.

It all started with Twitter.  If you go back and look at various NASA missions that use Twitter (Mars Phoenix, the Mars Rovers, Cassini, Mars Science Lab… the list goes on), most of them are unmanned missions that have had to fight hard for funding.  Similar projects in the future will probably have to fight that much harder for money.

Unmanned missions don’t have the same glamour as manned missions, so they don’t get the same level of popular support.  To secure funding in the future, you’ve got to have popular support.

What’s the solution to solving that? 

Personalize the unmanned missions.

Seriously.  Go back and read the Twitter histories of the missions, the Mars Phoenix being the best example.  They Twitter as if it’s a person on Mars, and people send it (him?)  her?) messages about feeling sad for it since it’s going into the Martian winter.  The outpouring of support for this little lander on Twitter is amazing.

And it’s all because NASA personified the mission.  I don’t know if this was NASA’s intent, but it seems to be working.  Great advertising.

Grrr, NASA

CNN reports that NASA is cutting back the Mars Rovers’ team budget, which will likely result in Spirit sitting catatonic until funding comes back (yeah, right):

NASA officials have directed the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) program to cut $4 million dollars from its approximately $20 million dollar budget this year, and principal investigator Steve Squyres tells CNN that will likely mean science operations will have to be suspended for Spirit. The rover would be put in hibernation mode, and if all goes well it could be reactivated in the future in the event funding is restored.

Hey, congress, are you listening?  I’d like to donate my income taxes for the year to the Mars Rover folks.  Please?

[Update: Yay, looks like funding for the rovers will not be cut after all.  Hey, Congress, can I have my income taxes back now please?]

Steve Squyres Visits

Yesterday at work, Steve Squyres came to give a talk to the company's research group, but anyone could attend. So, I quickly made sure my calendar wasn't booked at the time and immediately blocked it off so I could attend. Having just finished his book ( Roving Mars: Spirit, Opportunity, and the Exploration of the Red Planet , ISBN 1401301495) and having followed the EDL phase and subsequent rovings of Spirit and Opportunity, I figured this was a once in a lifetime shot to hear him speak.

For those of you that aren't as NASA-nerdy as I am, Steve Squyres is the PI of the MER team that put Spirit and Opportunity on Mars in January 2004.

Steve talked and showed some truly breathtaking photography. He got asked the same question I posted about back in February 2004 about a mechanism to knock dust of the solar panels, and gave the same answer as I've heard all the other times I've seen it responded to.

Definitely an amazing talk, and I highly recommend reading the book.

Return to Flight

I got to listen to the liftoff of the space shuttle Discovery this morning on the drive in to work. I'm really glad to see that the wait is over and that NASA is back in business doing what they're supposed to be doing – scientific research in space. Hopefully everything else in this mission will go as planned.

Kudos to everyone at NASA involved in the return to flight effort!

nasa responds (not directly, but, well)

Back in February I posted my nasa deep thought about why they didn't put blowers/wipers on the mars rovers… I got to ask one of the NASA scientists during a talk recently at Texas A&M, and then this morning I pull up CNN. There's an article about the rovers getting their lives extended. Then there it is, in paragraph 6:

Steve Squyres, the Mars rovers principal investigator, said the rovers' designers deemed the additional weight of adding wipers or blowers to the solar panels was not worthwhile. Instead they increased the size of the panels to maximize the power input.