NASA needs to be cooler

Contributed by
Mar 5, 2008

NASA is stuffy. NASA has no use. NASA is a waste of money. NASA doesn't speak to me.

NASA is old media.

Sound familiar? It might. I've heard it a few times. In fact, I know lots of people who feel this way, or at least I've seen these sorts of things said on bulletin boards and other venues.

A lot of folks don't connect with NASA. And while that can be stated simply, it opens up a huge mess of problems for NASA. The space agency is run by people who are my age and older, people who were inspired by Apollo. The thing is, to people under the age of about 35, Apollo is ancient history. Some NASA administrators can't grasp that fact.

When I was still doing contract work for NASA, I was knocking on doors trying to get them to modernize their public outreach. I was trying to tell them that they were disconnecting with youth. Specifically, I wanted them to sexy up the Moon missions. I wanted a rover that could be controlled by a console at a theme park. I wanted games online based on the Moon, school projects where kids designed their own colony.

I was met with a pretty cold silence -- A few years ago I arranged a meeting with people at NASA HQ to discuss NASA lunar outreach effort, and when I arrived, literally one person showed up. One NASA top banana, when asked about the lackadaisical support for a return to the Moon, said that when we go back to the Moon, people will naturally be interested. Build it, he said, and they will come.

I LOL'ed. My first reaction to that was: what generation does this guy live in?

Not Gen Y, that's for sure. But NASA does have some younger folks working for them, 20-30-somethings who are keyed in, who use Twitter, and Facebook, and (shudder) MySpace. These younger NASAians know what their age group responds to, far better than their bosses do.

A quartet of them put together a PPT presentation about how NASA can join the rest of us in the 21st Century, and they called it Gen Y Perspectives. I think everyone at NASA should read it, and moreover, they should take it to heart.

When I was a kid, NASA stood for adventure, exploration, cutting edge science, pushing back frontiers. It stood for people walking on the surface of another world.

It's hard for a lot of people my age and older to understand this, but NASA doesn't mean the same thing to kids these days.

And it should. They're NASA.

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