Last week I had the chance to participate in a #NASASocial event commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Kennedy Space Center. The event was timed to kick-off a weekend of NASA Social events leading up to the Mars Science Laboratory (#MSL) landing on August 5/6. 2012.
For me, this was a dream come true. I’ve wanted to visit KSC ever since I stuffed myself with too many Cheerios in order to get a special Space Shuttle kit in the 80s. Sadly, I never made it to a shuttle launch before the program ended. KSC was high on my to-do list since I moved to Florida, so it was exciting to receive the invitation to the #KSC50 event. The NASASocial team hosted us in the KSC press center for two days of presentations about current NASA programs, especially focusing on the Curiosity mission. We also were able to participate in the first multi-Site NASA social event by joining a live simulcast with MSL scientists and engineers at the Jet Propulsion Lab and other NASA Centers that were hosting similar events). The highlight of the event for me was our tour of early launch sites and getting to go inside the Launch Control Center and Vehicle Assembly Building.
This was my first “social media event” of this type and its given me a lot to ponder. Interestingly, this felt very different than my use of social media during conferences. When I’m at MCN, MW, etc., etc. I have a pretty good idea of who the audience is for my tweets, but here I felt a little spammy. I’m not sure what you all thought of the stream coming at you last week, but I was trying to be somewhat restrained in crossing the streams. I am also a more casual fan of the space program and rank pretty low on the space geek ladder. After arriving, I’d wished I’d done some more reading up about what’s going on at NASA so I could ask our panelists better questions.
I was a little disappointed that we didn’t hear more history during and event cast as a 50th Anniversary celebration. I’m not sure this is a criticism as much as a surprising mismatch of expectations. We did get to hear from some NASA old-timers who shared some great personal anecdotes about their time at NASA. We did get a fat copy of This New Ocean, a part of NASA’s historical publications, but little mention was made of NASA’s other historical collections or efforts to document it’s history. During the event I started tweeting links to oral histories from some of our speakers (Jay Honeycutt, Lee Solid, Roy Tharpe). As we went around on our bus tour our guide did point out some landmarks, but only provided a little bit of what I’d call interpretation. Throughout the tour I was pulling up information from Wikipedia and other NASA sites about the locations we were visiting (had I thought about it, I should have looked for any dedicated apps related to KSC. They do seem to have an official app, but the one review doesn’t make it look worth $.99) I’d be curious to see what kinds of interpretation is offered on the public tour that covers the same area.
My other takeaway from this event, is that I need to work at being social at social events. I’m usually pretty good in a crowd of people I know, but still shy among strangers. I sense there was some un-official back channel that I might have tuned into if I’d been a little more aggressive about talking to other attendees. The organizers seemed to leave this part of being social to us and it has me wondering what impact “icebreakers,” etc. have on these kinds of events. Compared to my conference experiences, I didn’t see as much direct back-and-forth on Twitter among participants (at least using the NASASocial hashtag). Again, as a n00b, I may have been missing out on something (and ugh! I could never get the wifi to work right, so I was limited to my phone – regretting my wifi-only iPad this weekend). From NASA’s perspective, I’m guessing that the events were successful. The NASASocial tag trended in the US on both days and seemed to feed the buzz leading up to the landing.
Big thanks to NASASocial for letting me come aboard for this event. It was a great opportunity to learn more about KSC and the MSL Mission. Since it was my first time participating in an event like this, it also has me thinking hard about how museums can use social media in this way to engage their audiences. It’s going to provide a great example for my students when we discuss social media and museums later this fall.
(and yes, it’s been a while. Do we really need another “I haven’t been blogging for a while post…I don’t think so!)