ISU Space and the Media Panel at NASA Ames

Date: 7 July 2009, 8 p.m. EDT

Moderator: Dr. David Livingston, The Space Show


Miles O’Brien, veteran news reporter (formerly of CNN)
Leonard David, reporter
Michael Potter, documentary filmmaker
Jeff Roth, founder and president of Jeff Roth Productions
Harry Kloor, film producer

Miles O’Brien

–had a deal to fly on the space shuttle – was going to be announced two weeks after Columbia was to have landed….
–Big change occurred with Mars Pathfinder, which landed on Mars on July 4, 1997 – NASA decided they should share results as soon as possible online…
–Mobile broadcasting is now very easy….don’t need an entire truck, just a webcam….”We don’t need no stinking trucks anymore.”
–Now working with doing streaming webcasts…
–Mainstream media have abandoned the subject matter, but there is much technology leveling of the playing field…

Leonard David –

–Where is the space program today, where is it heading….I have no idea…
–Amazing changes now….everyone can be their own space reporter….
–China could get back to the moon before NASA….
–Very exciting to see privatization…SpaceShipOne….when I see actual hardware coming together instead of PowerPoint, that’s exciting…
–Scifi is a two-edged sword – gets people excited but doesn’t portray the complexity and difficulty of space travel
–Thinks we’re on the cusp of something happening in the search for extraterrestrial life…

Michael Potter

–Showed trailer from Orphans of Apollo
Many of those involved in privatizing Mir were involved in the inauguaral 1998 session of International Space University
–Believes that entertainment has a bigger impact than media – it can inspire people more….
–The political system is dysfunctional as it relates to space exploration….
–Alternative media does have hope…Twitter…
–Buzz Alrdin’s rap song with Snoop Dogg reached a lot of people….

Jeff Roth, founder and president of Jeff Roth Productions

–showed clip of his documentary, The Wonder of It All
–astronauts taking about what it was like to land on the moon

Harry Kloor,
Film Producer

Showed clips from an animated film in which various lizard creatures flew around the solar system visiting various worlds and explaining the science behind it…or something….I think Samuel L. Jackson is in it…sadly, no cursing about getting these m-f’ing space aliens off this m’fing spaceplane…


–O’Brien – media is a very competitive business and they put on what they think the public is interested in, which is why there were 12 hours of Michael Jackson coverage today….

–Livingston – alternative media are the ones that have publicized alternatives to Ares, criticisms of NASA moon plans, etc.

[Editor’s Note: It’s true that criticism of Ares and alternatives such DIRECT received attention first online before the mainstream media picked up on them. Kudos on that.

How much it affected the larger course of events is an open question.  Bloggers tend to think they have more influence than they do. And those deeply involved in these programs often lack the time to read what the blogosphere is putting out.

To my mind, the decision to review Ares is likely linked to three major developments: change of administration; the departure of NASA Administrator Mike Griffin, who was the plan’s main architecture; and Ares just collapsing under its own weight.

People whose opinions I respect and who have some actual influence have long thought that Ares was a badly designed rocket; their views only gained traction during the last eight months or so as Bush headed out the door.

I might also add that one influential space blogger had been telling the DIRECT advocates to sit down and shut up until a few months ago.]

— Kloor –was involved in publicizing X Prize for years….not much mainstream media interest in it until it looked like Burt Rutan was actually going to achieve it….

[Editor’s Note: Undoubtedly true. But, Burt was largely doing what NASA and the Air Force had done during the early 1960’s with the X-15. And the main result has been a suborbital space vehicle catering to millionauts, billionauts, and the occasional lucky Guinness drinker. This certainly has a novelty value in terms of news; but, it doesn’t really bring space any closer to the majority of the planet’s inhabitants.]

Miles O’Brien – NASA has been like a stone wall in regards to the human spaceflight program – wanted to do a profile on Eileen Collins….turned CNN down….offered 10 minutes in a round robin….
–shuttle and station program is not very interesting to most people….hard to get the public interested in it…only space enthusiasts…

–Kloor – yep, NASA PR sucks…

–Livingston – U.S. becoming more of a nanny state, too many regulations, making it difficult for engineers and scientists to do their jobs….

— Potter – private sector sees the media as necessary to their success, while NASA sees it as less necessary….need to change the NASA mindset…

[Editor’s Note: There’s a lot of manipulation of the media by the private sector, something I wish the panel had touched upon. There’s also a tendency among the many bloggers toward boosterism and an unwillingness to examine claims critically. I would use the fatal explosion at Scaled Composites two years ago as an example of where both the mainstream media and blogosphere didn’t seem interested in digging very deeply.]

— Kloor – would love to produce a pay-per-view human mission to Mars…

Various panelists criticized NASA for not using Twitter and other social media outlets enough, criticisms that left the NASA media folks in the room baffled….

[Editor’s Note: This criticism confused me as well. NASA has been using Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other online media for some time now…..A lot of information out there, much of it quite candid for a government agency…and I might add, much more extensive that anything I’ve seen on ESA, Roskosmos, JAXA, etc. I know, I look at these agency sites multiple times each week.

NASA’s efforts have been ongoing for a while now. A couple of months back, General Services Administration completed an agreement with a number of social media outlets, which set out government wide policies for the use of social media. It largely codified what NASA had already been doing across the agency….

My guess is that a lot of the criticism was aimed at KSC and JSC, which deal with the human spaceflight effort. But in the discussion, it morphed into a general criticism of the agency that I don’t think is entirely merited.]

Dan Barry – 3 Time Space Shuttle Astronaut – Audience Member

–Felt the panelists were giving NASA too hard of a time….
–NASA has been burned before….send astronaut to a school, someone else from another district gets upset and writes Congress….simple efforts like that can backfire badly…creates a certain cautiousness….
–Film crew followed his STS 105 mission training from morning to night….full access….film didn’t do very well…not a lot of general interest…