In the late 1940s and early 1950s three men, Werner von Braun, Willy Ley and Chesley Bonestell, vigorously promoted their visions for the conquest of space. They did it through magazine articles, books and television. At a time when the upgraded V2 rockets in use were still far from reaching space, this must have seemed to some like irresponsible fantasy. But it powered the space program for the next 50 years. Today America needs new von Brauns, Leys and Bonestells. Specifically, it needs you.
From an outsider’s perspective — and, indeed, I am an outsider — it appears America’s space community spends a lot of time talking to itself. You attend space conferences, advertise in trade magazines and communicate with one another through publications like Space News. So for a change of pace, here are some thoughts from a space enthusiast who is not part of your community.
Why listen to me? Because, though my base is in the sciences, I have had 15 years of experience promoting the careers of people like Prince, Bette Midler, Bob Marley, Peter Gabriel and Billy Joel. As part of a two-decade-long urban anthropological expedition into popular culture, I founded the largest public relations firm in the music industry, helped launch Farm Aid and assisted Amnesty International in establishing its presence in the United States. In the process, I learned a few lessons that might apply to the challenge of sustaining public and political support for the Vision for Space Exploration
Lesson No. 1: You need compelling visual images to engage the public.
NASA is the master of visual images — just think of Hubble or the Mars rovers. But NASA is having a rough time getting across its vision for human space exploration. Last year, NASA issued exploration-related press releases including at least 10 pictures; almost none of those visual images appeared in the mass media. Recently, NASA announced its plans for a lunar base. Again, no pictures showed up to spark the public’s imagination. As a result, when you mention the Vision for Space Exploration to people outside the space community, they have no idea what you are talking about.
You need to tell the story of the vision by showing the story of the vision. You must make the new habitat on the Moon visually unforgettable. Space suits, like all other human clothing, have to show personality, the flair of their wearers. Buildings constructed in one-sixth Earth gravity can’t just be Quonset huts buried underground to provide radiation shielding. They have to show imagination, sparkle and have windows — even if those windows are double-paned six-foot-thick slabs of radiation-shielding glass with the gap between them filled with water.
You need pictures of the possible future — a future imagined by informed writers, artists and filmmakers like science fiction author Greg Bear, Industrial Light and Magic computer artist Jeroen Lapre, and the computer simulation designer who helped develop the Mars Rovers, Bruce Damer. These images should show how NASA’s efforts will spark and/or complement private space efforts. They should show the richness of imagination that will emerge from new generations of entreprenauts. In sum, they must show us “science fact-ion.”
Lesson No. 2: Repetition is important, and maintaining a sustained media presence is critical.
People do not remember what they read about, see or hear only every once in a while. They remember what they’ve been exposed to dozens of times. That means you need new news items every week. Where do you get them? You lay out your long-term goals. Then you publicize the microsteps that move you toward your aim. You lay out metrics, like a public television telethon fundraiser that shows you how your contributions are carrying a pledge-drive toward its target.
To capture public and media attention, you apply the Guinness Book of World Records principle. You look for the highest, the lowest, the biggest, the smallest, the least and the most. You look for interesting anecdotes, the sort that would amuse or amaze even someone who knows nothing about space. You play the name game, associating your projects with as many high-profile people as possible. You show the drama behind the scenes, the competition of ideas, technologies and human beings. And you look for pictures to associate with your news hooks, pictures that get across your long-term vision.
Lesson No. 3: You need an over-arching organization to drive your vision promotion campaign.
The Coalition for Space Exploration Public Affairs team is a good start in this regard. It pulls key industry companies and space-related organizations into a collaborative public outreach effort. NASA, in turn, has its media and public relations apparatus at headquarters and its centers located around the country. Commercial, space entrepreneurial firms have their own independent efforts that rely a great deal on the public’s fascination with new and daring space initiatives that advance the cause of making space accessible to everyone.
What you do not have is a way of integrating and reinforcing these efforts, while creating an environment of creative brainstorming and marketing innovation. You need a Space Council for Public Outreach. You need a team to get across a vision of our future as a multi-planetary species, our future as the bearers of ecosystems, genetic diversity, human curiosity and human creativity to permanent settlements in orbit, in L5, on asteroids, on the Moon and even on Mars. You need to show you are not wasting the taxpayer’s money, but are making one of the most important investments in human history — opening new worlds to the family of DNA and to the molecular magic we call life. You need a central media team, a Space Council for Public Outreach, to show how space will lift even Earth’s poor and oppressed.
Your space team should show what a habitation on the Moon is likely to deliver to us. What new firsts can it accomplish? What new devices or materials can it construct? What can it discover? How will it help us reach the vision’s stated long-term objective, Mars? How will it prepare us to turn Mars into a new source of riches, freedoms and powers? How will the Orion spacecraft and Ares 1 launch vehicle help us deliver what Manuel Pimenta, the creator of the Lunar Simulation computer program Lunar Explorer, calls, “Survival, Prosperity and Adventure”? Plant a passionate vision in the public heart and you will generate sustainability — the capacity of the space program to endure from one administration to the next and from one generation to its successors. “Without a vision, the people perish.” You have that vision. Now you have to convey it. Your best tools are pictures and publicity. You have the American soul in your hands. If you don’t lift it, it may cease to look up forever.
Howard Bloom is the author of: The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History; Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind From The Big Bang to the 21st Century; and Reinventing Capitalism: Putting Soul In the Machine–A Radical Reperception of Western Civilization. He founded The Howard Bloom Organization, a public relations firm in the music industry and film business.|Amara D. Angelica is editor of KurzweilAI.net and edited Kurzweil’s two most recent books, Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever and The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. She is a former Grumman aerospace engineer.