Friday, April 20

Going Social: NASA Turns Earth Day Blue

While NASA sometimes struggles with public relations to justify loftier goals and big ideas like a moon colony, there is no doubt that the agency is starting to find footing with social media. While the program is best described as fledgling (only because it lacks cohesion), there is something that can be learned from it.

Specifically, NASA is hosting Earth Day activities for three days in Washington D.C. and two days in Long Beach, Calif., but its physical presence is only the beginning of its efforts in support of Earth Day. Portions of the program will take advantage of real-time communication and engagement.

How NASA Communicates On Earth Day. 

• National Mall in Washington D.C. The main location will be held in Washington D.C., with three days of displays and presentations open to the public at the "NASA Village," mostly held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. today, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. On Friday, there will also be live presentations hosted on the Earth Day Network stage (12th Street and Jefferson Drive SW).

Live Webcast And Scientist Chat. Focusing on A High-Tech Checkup of Earth's Vital Signs on Saturday, NASA scientists will take people on a world tour from the vantage point of space, providing insights that can only be made possible from orbiting sensors. The webcast is scheduled to air 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 21. It will be viewed online at the NASA Village.

NASA Earth Day Video Contest. Independent of these efforts, NASA is asking people to share their vision of what NASA's exploration of Earth means by creating a short 15-second to 2-minute video. The contest is being hosted by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and participants are invited to draw from NASA's image gallery. Submissions will be accepted April 22 to May 31.

• NASA Center Activities, Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Other than being mentioned via NASA's Twitter and Facebook accounts, there will be another location-based event on Saturday and Sunday. Held at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, Calif., attendees will share science research about our ocean planet, using exhibits and hands-on learning demonstrations for all ages.

How NASA Could Have Communicated Earth Day. 

All of the above efforts are admirable and certainly a step in the right direction, especially because they employ both physical locations and social media. But I cannot help wondering how NASA could have created a campaign with a greater national or global scope, something that could have captivated the world. Such a campaign might have included:

• YouTube video contest leading up to the Earth Day event (as opposed to after the fact).
• A social media campaign encouraging the media and bloggers to support an event.
• Ten physical locations supporting three days of featured events at staggered times (plus exhibits).
• The eleventh location would naturally be held on the International Space Station.
• A dedicated Ustream program that cuts into main events at each location on a rotating basis.
• Social media support for all of those rotating activities over the course of three days.

The concept is only a thumbnail, but NASA has enough locations around the United States to tighten its proximity to the public across the country — Texas, New Mexico, and Florida not withstanding. Such an effort could possibly bring the nation together on the successes of NASA not just in space, but on planet Earth as well.

Then again, I've never understood why this country hasn't made an effort to declare a national Space Day (of observance) on July 20, enabling NASA to make Earth Day a minor practice run for a much bigger event. After all, July 20 remains one of humankind's greatest accomplishments, underscoring that our destiny points to the stars if we ever want to gain a better perspective about the planet we call home. It seems to me, we don't think about space exploration enough.
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