I forgot, I am allergic to cheese

There’s a great scene in the first volume of the 1998 documentary “From the Earth to the Moon” where  Astronaut Roger Chaffee is giving a slide presentation during a pancake breakfast and he’s trying explain the how and why of what they are doing to a group of people.  He puts on some technical slides and in just a few minutes, he realizes he’s loosing the audience.

He stops his boring talk and puts on a cartoon produced by NASA for kids starring Woody Woodpecker who can “explain all of this better” than he can.

The cartoon is a mixture of Woody’s crazy antics and explanations on why NASA needs to do some of the things they are doing to get to the moon. Upon arrival to the moon, Woody exclaims:

I forgot! I’m allergic to cheese!

The crowd of adults laughs hysterically through the whole thing, cheering and clapping.

In a rare NASA moment, they didn’t take themselves too seriously and it worked.

The key to winning the audience over was the story told through a cartoon woodpecker.   Roger recognized that it was the story that mattered, not the technical details of how.

One of the key concepts in Randy Olsen’s excellent book “Don’t be such a scientist” is:

Motivate then Educate

Randy says in his book:

… science, in itself, ain’t real interesting to the broad audience.  It simply isn’t enough for the general public — it’s too cold, too complex, too informal.  It needs to be partnered with a more humanized element.  This is why scientists need artists.

We need to replace the stiff public image of space exploration with stories told by characters we love.  Great stories are always about characters and adventure.  Give these things to people and they will literally follow you to the moon and back.

4 thoughts on “I forgot, I am allergic to cheese

  1. Excellent post–and absolutely true. You hit on two points that deserve serious thinking: NASA relaxing (even a bit!), and putting the story ahead of the absolute technical accuracy of the details of how things happen.Kudos to Chaffee for connecting with his audience instead of boring them to death. He likely made some long-term friends for space exploration, but more importantly he didn't turn them off completely from the endeavor.

  2. Indeed. This weekend I heard about the making of Disney's Man In Space documentary (

    ), which wasn't made for NASA, but rather to promote Disneyland. They tapped Wernher von Braun for the science and Willy Ley for the story, which meant it was both entertaining and substantive. It was shown to general audiences and to top brass, which meant it defined the space age for millions of people.We need more stories like that. Get the science right, design a future that people can imagine themselves in, tell an engaging story, and you might define the next age.

  3. Excellent post–and absolutely true. You hit on two points that deserve serious thinking: NASA relaxing (even a bit!), and putting the story ahead of the absolute technical accuracy of the details of how things happen.Kudos to Chaffee for connecting with his audience instead of boring them to death. He likely made some long-term friends for space exploration, but more importantly he didn't turn them off completely from the endeavor.

  4. Indeed. This weekend I heard about the making of Disney's Man In Space documentary (

    ), which wasn't made for NASA, but rather to promote Disneyland. They tapped Wernher von Braun for the science and Willy Ley for the story, which meant it was both entertaining and substantive. It was shown to general audiences and to top brass, which meant it defined the space age for millions of people.We need more stories like that. Get the science right, design a future that people can imagine themselves in, tell an engaging story, and you might define the next age.

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