The topic of the week seems to be Open Government. Fantastic!
NASA is open by design, and the public support is vital because it’s the public that pays for their projects.
Contrast this to private industries where public support is not important. Let’s say I have a new product idea and I develop a prototype on my own. When I take it to investors, the acceptance factors will be things like total market opportunity, cost to manufacture, legal issues, etc. Public support isn’t important until the product is out on the market. Even then, it’s only the customer opinion that actually matters.
If you’re a fan of private space (NewSpace/ “Space 2.0″) and forward moving things like the Google Lunar X PRIZE(GLXP), you will find yourself frustrated at times when private companies don’t reveal what they are doing until they are ready to unveil themselves. It’s hard to track the progress of many of the GLXP teams at this point, and like it or not, they aren’t necessarily dependent on you as a fan for success. Unless there are corporate sponsorships on the line, but that’s a whole other article.
You can’t compare the private space industry to NASA directly. They have different operating rules and different gauges for success. If the public likes NASA, then they don’t even have to produce anything useful (I’m making a point here, NASA lovers. They have made plenty of useful things. Like poo collection in zero gravity).
Private companies have to make a profit. It doesn’t have to be a huge or unfair profit, but profit IS the point. It’s good for a company to need and work for it.
NASA on the other hand has an image problem and it matters a lot. Any government program is going to exist only if it is popular with the people who voted the program into being by electing officials who support the program, etc. It’s a giant popularity contest. But if people don’t care, or don’t know about the program, then support for funding wont exist.
There are two main image issues NASA is facing right now:
1) We used to know the heroes and now we don’t. NASA employees aren’t people, they are mindless PR robots. Andy Cochrane hit this on the head in just 5 minutes. We’ve been talking about this here on Evadot for a year.
2) It appears to the public that NASA has spent the last few years yelling at each other internally. Now they’re fighting with congress, only the current fight is for jobs and program retention. Like it or not, this it what people see. You’re not getting funding by doing that.
Mindless PR robots are easier to fix than the congressional mess, especially since the people at NASA aren’t actual robots or mindless. They have lives, and family. (at least I think they do.) They have hopes, and dreams. Many of us would love to tell their stories. Give us the chance and we will.
A great example of outstanding story telling is the Discovery Channel documentary Black Sky. It’s the story of the race to win the Ansari X Prize. People cried in this film. Engineers, fans, wives, and children wore their fears, hopes and dreams on their sleeves. It was not an act, and it was incredible. I cried at the end. Shut up, don’t judge. It was beautiful, man.
If we can show the people of the world the hopes and dreams of the PEOPLE who work at NASA like the Discovery Channel did with Black Sky, then the rest of the PR mess will have to fall into place.
The American people fell in love with Christa McAuliffe. We still love her. If we tell good stories, people will fall in love again.
So it’s on you now NASA. We writers, filmmakers, bloggers, fans, and an entire generation of kids are all here, dying for you to let us tell your story.
Will you let us?