Bringing Back The Roadshow

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The current administrator of NASA, Michael Griffin, gets it. He understands the reality that PR is enormously important for building public support for NASA and the space program in general. He's had a NASA roadshow developed using a large, expandable tractor trailer. The roadshow travels around the country giving people a chance to see and here about NASA and the projects it is developing to travel back to the Moon and on to Mars.

There's nothing quite like being able to reach out and touch a piece of the Moon. Knowing that an astronaut (one of only twelve people on the whole planet Earth) had traveled a quarter million miles across the void of cislunar space, landed on a barren and dusty surface, stepped out of his cocoon of the lunar module, picked up that rock, then brought it home again, is a pretty amazing and daunting thought.

To actually touch this invaluable piece of solar system history yourself is something that is not often available. In fact, there are only three places on this planet where it is possible: The National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., the Johnson Space Center in Texas, and as part of a traveling NASA space exhibit that is currently making its way cross country.

NASA's Vision for Space Exploration trailer is a beautiful piece of public relations for the future of human spaceflight. When our organization, the Orange County Space Society, does educational outreach work, we are often asked why this information is not more readily available. Many people we come in contact with are surprised at all that is currently happening in space or planned for the near future. This is the reason OCSS does what it does, to make the public aware, and we have been very successful in what we have accomplished. It is great that NASA is also out there doing this sort of work, because, as we all know, you can never have too much positive attention when it comes to the space program.

A decade or so back, I had the opportunity to talk with then-NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin. I asked him point blank why NASA was not doing more public relations work to sell NASA to the taxpaying public. His answer took me aback when he said, "NASA doesn't need PR. The success of our programs sell themselves."

As most everyone who has ever dealt with the public knows, nothing sells itself. NASA, under the new administration of Michael Griffin, innately understands this and has done something about it. In this case, that something is 72-feet long and 29-feet wide–an expandable semi-trailer has been constructed that gives the public a two-phase introduction to the future vision of human spaceflight, with a return to the Moon by 2018 and onward to Mars by about 2030.

Back when I was in elementary school, NASA had roadshows that came around and demonstrated science and talked about the space program. It spurred a lot of kids to go into the sciences. This is a great thing for public relations and a wonderful, relatively cheap way to build public enthusiasm. There is one factual error in the story, though. You can also touch a moon rock at the Kennedy Space Center Saturn V exhibit. I have done so myself.

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