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“Lights, Camera … Space Exploration?”

Posted on Oct. 7, 2015 at 5 p.m.

by Caroline Giddis.

Political uncertainty, music festival popularity and NASA working with Hollywood: Wait … is it 1969? Sorry to tell you, it’s not (I know, right?), but that doesn’t mean that space isn’t a hot topic right now. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, formed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1958, has had a big couple of weeks in space and on Earth.

On Monday, Sept. 28, NASA announced at a press conference that its latest research rovers on Mars found the presence of “hydrogenated salts” and dark streaks on the surface. What does that mean? It’s strong evidence of flowing water. For every little girl or boy who wanted to be an astronaut growing up, this news means everything. And with plans to get an earthling on Mars in the 2030s, NASA has stepped up its PR game.

Photo courtesy of Reinhard Link (Flickr)

PR strategies
NASA began its week around 10 a.m. ET by releasing mysterious teaser tweets about a Mars discovery from @NASA. NASA only published three tweets about the Mars announcement, but the language was intriguing, such as “Mars just got more interesting” and “Mars Mystery Solved?”. If you were one of the kids who wanted to fly into space one day, this caught your attention. NASA, maybe without realizing it, was using a major PR and advertising strategy — nostalgia. The build up around the announcement brought NASA over 111,000 new followers on Sept. 28 alone.

Hollywood and NASA
The announcement of water on Mars brought lots of attention to NASA, but it also seems to be perfectly timed with the release of space discovery film “The Martian”. The film, adapted from the novel by Andy Weir, follows an astronaut who is stranded on Mars after a mission causes him to miss his journey home. Director Ridley Scott has worked closely with NASA employees and researchers to ensure that the film is as realistic as possible.

15613688002_fd894dde94_oAccording to critics and those who have already seen “The Martian,” the film sheds quite a lot of favorable light on NASA as well. This sounds like a mutually beneficial relationship. As NASA creates buzz around the movie by releasing exciting Mars news and drawing audiences to the theater to see more, the filmmakers create realistic ideas in the public’s mind of what a mission to Mars might entail. But how can these PR strategies and relationships help NASA?

NASA image captured March 27, 2012 NASA successfully launched five suborbital sounding rockets this morning from its Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia as part of a study of the upper level jet stream. The first rocket was launched at 4:58 a.m. EDT and each subsequent rocket was launched 80 seconds apart.  Each rocket released a chemical tracer that created milky, white clouds at the edge of space. Tracking the way the clouds move can help scientists understand the movement of the winds some 65 miles up in the sky, which in turn will help create better models of the electromagnetic regions of space that can damage man-made satellites and disrupt communications systems. The launches and clouds were reported to be seen from as far south as Wilmington, N.C.; west to Charlestown, W. Va.; and north to Buffalo, N.Y. Credit: NASA/Wallops NASA image use policy. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center enables NASA’s mission through four scientific endeavors: Earth Science, Heliophysics, Solar System Exploration, and Astrophysics. Goddard plays a leading role in NASA’s accomplishments by contributing compelling scientific knowledge to advance the Agency’s mission. Follow us on Twitter Like us on Facebook Find us on Instagram
Photo courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (Flickr)

Future hopes
If NASA can keep up the anticipation and excitement surrounding Mars or other space quests, then it may be able to reach its goals sooner than 2030. More than $5 billion of NASA’s government-funded budget goes to aeronautics, space technology and exploration. If there is consistent public enthusiasm and if the government feels compelled enough, that number could increase.

NASA should continue to publish playful social media posts that appeal to the nostalgic dreamers and kids, as it draws people to the NASA website and anything space related. With the release of films such as “Gravity,” “Interstellar” and now “The Martian,” it’s been hard to forget about space lately. And maybe it’s all a part of a big NASA public relations plan. If NASA can keep it up, it may be a decade closer to reaching its biggest goals since Apollo 11 … crossing my fingers.

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