Is It Just Us, Or Is NASA Everywhere These Days?

With funding at risk, NASA has chosen a strategy that goes straight to the people.

polar vortexThere have been no shortage of stories about the goings on at NASA. Just today, there’s news that five new planets are among a number of “alien worlds” (CBS News’ phrase) discovered by NASA’s Kepler craft.

Then, also today, one of NASA’s telescopes has captured something called “gravitational lensing.”

“In addition to developing a better understanding of emission regions near black holes, scientists say that this study will also help to measure other gravitational lens systems,” says the Christian Science Monitor. Hmm. OK.

There’s a NASA photo of the polar vortex (above). A discussion about putting humans on Mars in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of the Mars Rover. An advanced look at a new satellite that will be launching on the 23rd. New robots are on the horizon. The stunning photos of the “cosmic dawn” taken by the Hubble and Spitzer telescopes were published. Even Beyonce got in on the action, although that was one bit of news she could’ve done without.

That’s a lot of ink for one organization. But all of this coverage can really be explained in a few lines spoken to Brian Williams on NBC Nightly News yesterday.

“I think the most important thing to know is that NASA never went out of business. The shuttle program ended but the space station program is going strong. We’re up here doing research 365 days a year and have been doing so for many many years and will continue to do so and NASA has a bright future ahead of it, ” said astronaut Rick Mastracchio.

Last month, Janet Vertesi, an assistant professor of sociology at Princeton, wrote an article for CNN proposing that there may come a time when NASA’s major programs won’t be funded. No doubt, NASA realized they had to do something, and do it fast.

“The robots’ stories and adventures captivate us,” Vertesi writes. “But what about the people who created and operate the robots? Behind the scenes, largely invisible to the public, are many of America’s best scientists and engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA centers, and research facilities who work on these missions to make space exploration possible.”

While the article goes into great detail about the important role NASA plays in the US’ standing in the STEM fields and the American economy, having the public on their side, calling for funding of NASA’s work, is sure to help. Particularly in an election year. To do that, the agency is capturing imaginations: show how cool it is that Brian Williams can interview astronauts who are hurtling through space at thousands of miles an hour. Show that they’re hip geniuses by making pop culture references to Gravity and football games (video below). Make the agency a part of the news that the average person is following with photos of extreme weather conditions.

For so many people, NASA is all geeks and data about things that don’t directly impact life here on Earth. And the current government has a love-hate relationship with science. The agency knows it has to prove its relevancy, and a full-on media offensive seems to be the strategy they’re going with.

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