December 14, 2013 by Dr. G
— NASA Social (@NASASocial) November 8, 2013
I had heard of NASA Socials before – they are one-day events for NASA’s social media followers. This year, NASA held one of their social events in conjunction with the fall AGU meeting, and 20 of us lucky applicants (including me!) who follow @NASA @NASASocial and @theAGU on Twitter, Facebook, and/or Google+ were selected to attend. You can read the initial announcement about the event on NASA’s website and an article my campus wrote about me attending on Penn State’s website.
Each of us attendees were asked to send a short description about ourselves for @NASASocial to tweet ahead of time as an introduction. Below is the tweet about me:
— NASA Social (@NASASocial) November 20, 2013
The best way to summarize the day will be to go through our agenda of the day.
Arrive, get badge in Moscone South lobby, move to Moscone South 226. After picking up my name badge and special lanyard (pictured to the right), I headed to our room for the day. The room was not the easiest to find, but once I found the sign pictured at the beginning of this blog post, I knew I was in the right spot!
Presentation and Q&A from NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan. Dr. Stofan (@EllenStofan) has been NASA’s Chief Scientist for only four months, but she has clearly been a fan of NASA for a lifetime. She shared some of the great science that NASA is researching, with three driving questions that fall along the theme of Origins and Evolutions – Are we alone? How did we get here? How does our universe work? She stressed that much of what NASA does helps humans on Earth, such as monitoring hurricanes and natural hazards, making vaccines on the International Space Station, and running satellites that study climate. Her honest and authentic enthusiasm for NASA was apparent when she shared with us that she is “jumping up and down with excitement” over the exposure age from Curiosity on Mars that was announced the previous day (see the press release). What a thrill to be able to hear from NASA’s chief scientist and have a Q&A session with her!
Introductions of Social attendees. We next went around the room and introduced ourselves. What a diverse group, from students to writers at Frontier Scientists to film editors to engineers… all of us sharing one common interest and passion – space science. We then heard from NASA Social Media Manager John Yembrick. NASA held its first NASA Social in 2009, and this event at AGU was its 74th NASA Social. John explained that NASA uses social media not just to put information out, but also to answer questions. NASA has more interactions with social media than with their press releases, and NASA is focusing even more on sharing stories that connect with people. John shared a great example of how
NASA replied to a Justin Bieber tweet, who has close to 48 million followers. Justin retweeted the NASA tweet, which was also retweeted by over 56,000 Bieber followers. This retweet hit a record high for a NASA retweet, and it reached young teenage girls (Justin’s followers) which is a demographic NASA is interested in. John’s take-home message – use your influencers to reach a wider audience, and that we (the NASA Social participants) can help NASA increase that reach within our own existing spheres.
Presentation and Q&A from NASA Associate Administrator, Science Mission Directorate, John Grunsfeld. Dr. Grunsfeld (@SciAstro) is a former NASA Astronaut that served on five space flights, three of them being missions for the Hubble Space Telescope. He shared several inspiring statements with us, such as “NASA Science is the greatest engine of scientific discovery on the planet,” and “we need to go to Mars as a planet, not as a nation or individual.” He also had some funny moments, like when he said “Earth is my favorite planet – so far.” He described several past, present, and future missions of NASA, all with a smile on his face. He even said his return trips to the Hubble were “like seeing an old friend.” Dr. Grunsfeld concluded that communicating NASA science needs to continue to be broader than social media, that going out to talk to different groups can get others excited (and NASA does have the best tools especially to excite kids!).
Attend press briefing, “Dynamic Mars from Long-Term Observations,” questions are reserved for working press. The AGU conference was filled with non-stop press conferences highlighting the latest science discoveries. I was excited to be able to attend my first press briefing – it was like getting a peak in to the world of journalists. The briefing we attended was for an article just released in Nature Geoscience on the value of having long-term measurements to understand features on Mars, such as recurring slope lineae, and their possible connections to Martian climate change (see the press release and article abstract). The authors of the journal article gave a short presentation with images and video, and then the press asked several questions. I was impressed with so many parts of this event. I was impressed with the opening statement the scientists kicked off the event with – “Mars is alive and well.” What a way to grab an audience! The scientists also made sure to remember who was in the audience (non-scientists) and used phrases “this is important because…” and “the take-home message is…” (watch a recording of the press conference and Q&A) I appreciated the sophisticated and technical questions asked by the press – they clearly know their science! I wish I could be a fly on the wall for more press events, as it was a great learning experience.
Presentation and Q&A from Voyager project scientist Ed Stone. Had I caught The Colbert Report a week ago, I would have seen the tribute to this NASA pioneer (view this clip to hear Dr. Stone speak about Voyager 1 and this clip to see Dr. Stone receives NASA’s Distinguished Public Service Medal for a lifetime of scientific achievement). But I feel so lucky to have seen Dr. Stone in person! He is clearly still passionate about Interstellar Voyager, as I’m sure he was from his first day at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It is amazing to think that a mission that was only supposed to last for four years is now going on 36 years, and will probably run for another 12 years before Voyager runs out of power. Just as amazing is that the data is coming back at a “whopping” rate of 160 bits/sec, and that the spacecraft uses an 8-track digital tape as a recorder on board! (the top technology of the time when it was launched in 1977) Dr. Stone thinks that our future is landing on other planets and bringing samples back – I think we all hope to see this mission in our future.
Scientist Speed Dating. This was an interesting session, where we were broken in to groups that each met with a different scientist to discuss the science research in their agencies – Julienne Stroeve from the National Snow and Ice Data Center, Susan Hough from the U.S. Geological Survey, Gail Skofronick-Jackson from NASA Goddard-GPM Mission, and Linda Spilker from NASA JPL-Cassini Mission. Each one of these scientists shared so much information in such a short period of time, I could have written a blog post about each of them individually! I am really looking forward to the data that will be coming back from the Global Precipitation Measurement Mission, and this group (including Dr. Spilker) couldn’t get enough of discussing the Wave at Saturn project from The Day the Earth Smiled!
For the rest of the time, we were encouraged to head over to the AGU Exhibit Hall to attend Hyperwall talks by NASA Scientists (see my Thursday post for a summary of the Hyperwall talk I attended later in the week). I needed to head on over to the AGU Bloggers Forum to serve as a panelist, and then I saw the group at the final event of the night, the AGU Open Mic for science-themed music, dramatic readings, etc. (see my Bloggers and Open Mic post).
I had an AMAZING time at the NASA Social! I really appreciated being with a group of people from all walks of life that shared a common passion for all things NASA, and to have the opportunity to ask questions of NASA scientists – just an incredible opportunity! I took pages of notes to help me remember as many details as I can from the day’s events. What I took away the most is that I want to learn even more! Several of the NASA scientists repeated the take-home message that Earth really isn’t unique, that Earth is just one piece of space and time. Geologic processes that have shaped the surface of Earth also are shaping the surfaces of other planets and Moons – and then, there are other planets in other solar systems, and who knows what else we will find???
Dr. Ellen Stofan made the statement early in her talk that: “you think you know everything… and then you look at the rest of the solar systems out there, and you realize that we really don’t know everything.” It will be a challenge to keep on top of all of the latest-and-greatest discoveries by NASA, and even more challenging to make sure I share these discoveries with my students, put Earth in context for them, and share these discoveries with an even greater audience (what NASA was calling my “sphere”).
Thank you, NASA Social, for an amazing day!