Monday, June 10, 2013

Beyond the Space Choir


I took a break from writing, partly because I was on the road for 23 days, and wanted to focus on events with fellow spacetweeps, and partly because WiFi was often undependable unless on a handheld device. (I find it hard to blog on an iPhone.)

Between the SpaceFest Conference, Space Shuttle Endeavour, and Mojave Space Port, I detoured to visit college pals in Hollywood, California -- stepping conspicuously out of both my comfort zone and knowledge base. I could pick Tom Hanks out of a line-up, but sometimes feel like I have no idea what anyone is talking about when it comes to modern entertainment. If there are no hockey pucks or Star Trek uniforms involved, I am often out of the loop!

The Temple, and Reigning God of Hollywood

In a world of celebrity power, where every waiter or valet is a struggling actor hoping to stumble over an agent, where stars tip off paparazzi via speed dial just so they can "pretend" to wave off photographs at restaurants (yes, I just learned that's how it actually works), and where wealthy film producers "hold court" at schmoozy-boozy business meetings disguised as lobster-and-diamond encrusted parties, there is no way to relate.

Science holds little sway, here. Everyone is trying to find the perfect formula for getting famous, staying famous, making the next awesome TV show that lasts 10 seasons, or the perfect movie that profits hugely at the Box Office and wins an Oscar ... but there's no single way to accomplish any of these things! By all accounts, much of it is accidental, or at least far off any charted course.

My college pal joked that we both chose careers "among the stars", and we laughed together. Certainly the truth! I come from a world where everyone wants to be an astronaut. Everyone wants a huge budget, but for completely different reasons. It is amusing, however, that a simple synonym applies to both of our worlds, which couldn't possibly be more categorically far apart.

Emmy, the lesser money God, but no less worshiped
(Hey, I've never done a selfie with anything that didn't fly!)

In the space of 3 days, I was invited to two film screenings with "industry people", and enjoyed two evenings in lush theatres at the two big academies: motion picture and television. While awaiting seating at the TV venue, couples nearby asked what I had seen in Los Angeles so far, and seemed surprised I had visited Space Shuttle Endeavour. They were long-time residents, but none had gone to see it. None had plans to see it. None were interested.

Why not? I wanted to know. Didn't you know it flew 25 missions, made nearly 5,000 orbits, carried 154 astronauts, docked to 2 space stations, and deployed satellites? They neither knew nor much cared, though I gathered this not at all from hostile disinterest. Nothing about the conversations were terse or competitive -- they were just amazed I had come to L.A. specifically for the Space Shuttle.

It simply wasn't part of their world. It was entirely removed from what they cared about on a daily basis, and they were living what seemed like fairly happy lives without worrying about space in any way. Fair enough, I shrugged, since I don't really care about Johnny Depp's new film, this season's hot pilots, or whether the newest attempt at translating the book "The Great Gatsby" into a movie would be successful or profitable. [Hint: Not.]

They figured, and I quote: "Isn't the space program over?"  However, one did know enough to ply me with questions about the "robot that got parachuted down to Mars" (another direct quote). They were surprised to know NASA has 80 (yes, eighty!) active missions.  Once their interest was piqued, the entire conversation turned to space exploration, our existing hardware in the solar system, and they were 12 different kinds of WOWed when I told them both Voyagers are in the outermost layer of the heliosphere.

Great! Now at least 5 more people in our country understand the definition of HELIOSPHERE.

It was then that I realized: I spend most of my outreach time "preaching to the choir" about space news and space concerns -- and not enough time reaching out to people who know nothing about space programs. In the industry, or in science circles, it's easy to imagine that everyone is interested in missions and the next space station being built... but honestly, youngsters in upcoming generations know more about singers, movie stars, and the newest celebrities performing voice-overs in video games than they may ever know about astronauts.

Space Shuttle Endeavour at the California Sciences Center

I wondered, do I talk about space too much? Are my family or older friends humoring me? I've always been interested in science, but for those who don't live and breathe the space program each day, will I lose the ability to talk casually about anything else?  Or am I worried about the wrong thing. Even if some people think I'm a "rocket launch chatterbox" -- should I care? Shouldn't I always be a guaranteed pillar of verbal or social media outreach?

Most of my twitter followers and my entire chosen feed are "Spacetweeps" or people who have attended NASA events. They want to hear and read and talk about space all day, too. Most of my Facebook (and Myspace, Pinterest, Tumblr!) friends are space enthusiasts, or work for a space agency/company somewhere in the world. The bulk of my photos are space-related tourism, space museums, space crafts, or events at space conferences in various states or foreign countries.

In the same way Hollywood people are just gobsmacked that not everyone is holding their breath for the next big buzz in the mighty entertainment industry, I genuinely forget there are people out there who aren't anticipating the next major launch or astronaut selection announcement.

After much pondering, I thought -- perhaps the question isn't whether I'm talking about space too much or not enough, but am I singing the hallelujah praises to the right people?  I'd love to have more opportunities to discuss missions and milestones with "civilians" outside of spage agencies, particularly those who may simply never have the chance to see a launch, a NASA press conference, a Mars rover animation video, or shake hands with someone who has traveled into space.

Perhaps, when all is said and done, I should stop "preaching to the existing space choir" -- and start more conversations with people in line for the movies: "Hey, new random friend, did you know that Curiosity is coming up on her 1-year anniversary on Mars?!"

My goal now is to make at least one-person-per-day understand what that means and truly CARE about it by the time anniversary is actually upon us.


Anonymous said...

If preaching to the choir is wrong, I don't want to be right.
Every choir member has their own audience. By sharing what we know with each other, we are also sharing with a thousand other audience members.
If that isn't successful outreach, what is??

Your "Away Team" Red Shirt.

PillowNaut said...

Hey J! Redshirt!
Indeed. We do still accomplish and learn a great deal by talking to each other... but much of our audience are *ALREADY* interested in space as well. That's why they follow us. I've just been thinking about it in a new way, having gone recently into a completely different world where no one spoke my language AT ALL. And they thought I was weird for not understanding theirs.

Anonymous said...

Hit the nail on the head with this Heather. I guess all of us have had fish out of water experiences since leaving Spacefest and our tweep family. Your Hollywood experiences don't surprise me at all. Only yesterday I came up against a wall of ignorance about Space exploration, NASA's "closure", the Shuttle's "next launch", and that I went to a "3 week Star Wars convention". Oh the humanity....
Though to be fair these people from other walks of life have no interest and may never have interest in Space and STEM but they are interested in WHY WE ARE INTERESTED. We humans are a curious bunch. Couching what we know in terms they understand when they are most receptive really pays dividends. For example showing my grand uncle he could cover the Moon with his thumb (and all of humanity) just like some of the Moonwalkers we met literally made the light bulb switch on above his head. Public Outreach for the win. Personally I'll have to try harder to repeat this and bring more voices into the choir.
Captain Fat Head

Jake Christensen said...

What a wonderful reflective piece! The irony is you couldn't have written it without Hollywood ;-) I wish you the best with this worthy goal. As someone who once dedicated two solid years to evangelizing, I will offer one piece of advice: strive to be a good listener. It's a key ingredient in connecting.

Anonymous said...

<< Perhaps, when all is said and done, I should stop "preaching to the existing space choir" -- and start more conversations with people in line for the movies: "Hey, new random friend, did you know that Curiosity is coming up on her 1-year anniversary on Mars?!" >>

Have you considered something in-between? Try Science-Fiction Conventions:
<< >>

Mrs. L said...

I think kids would still be interested if someone actually talked to them about it. You should talk at every elementary school :)

And just as an FYI...there are those out there that are interested in all things space and still know what current movie Johnny Depp backed out of (the Whitey Bulger biopic :)

PillowNaut said...

Whitey Bulger, seriously?! Wow. No one I met in Hollywood let that tidbit be known. And believe me, I so wish I COULD speak at every elementary school... everywhere!!

Joachim Baptist said...

As mentioned above, it's great to have events and share more inside the choir. It's absolutely needed even. But yes, we could and should all do a bit more to expand our knowledge every day.
Just yesterday I (@JustBe74) went to a tweetcamp (Barcamp) and together with 2 other #spacetweeps (@CaoilinnS & @SimSullen) we talked about our experience. It's great fun to do and you sometimes get feedback that you don't even expect. Planning to do more of these in all sort of events. :)

Denita Arnold said...

Oh, you're Soooooooo right! All folks care about these days are reality shows and glitter, etc. I'm so glad someone's out there "talking space" to people. I grew up watching Apollo, even though I couldn't remember all the names of the crews at the time. Ironically it was partly due to the movie "Apollo 13" that retriggerd my interest in the early space program, as well as the passing of Neil Armstrong. But I finally made a trip to JSC, and loved it, in spite of the fact that the museum part has been "dumbed down" for kids, and none of the shuttles are there. Still, I'm trying to learn more about the space program, especially the history. Keep p the good work! BTW Endeavor is my favorite shuttle!