Is there any organisation out there leveraging the Internet as effectively as NASA? Despite the loss of the Space Shuttle programme in 2011, the agency seems to be winning hearts and minds through its confident and open use of social media.
Of course, NASA’s PR department is assisted by expensive, state funded machinery and the spectacular images it creates. But this does not tell the whole story. I think a large part of the organisation’s communications success is down to the creativity and personality of the astronauts themselves… and NASA’s comfort at letting their personnel broadcast to their earth-shackled audience directly.
It is this policy that leads to these remarkable images, produced by ISS Expedition 31 crew member Don Petitt. These are experimental images, produced purely for their beauty. Petitt has been allowed to practice art on the Space Station, and the results provoke awe and delight. They have not been released exclusively to a large news broadcaster or magazine. They have been uploaded to Flickr, and given a permissive creative commons license.
Later, Expedition 33 commander Sunita Williams recorded this widely shared tour of the Space Station. She is had clearly been asked to make the video by the NASA public relations team, and she is not particularly flash in her delivery, but it is nevertheless compelling viewing and Williams’ enthusiasm and delight shines through.
And then there is Canadian Space Agency astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield, who is currently on the ISS as part of Expedition 34. On 3rd January he bowled over science fiction fans with this witty exchange with (fellow Canadian) William Shatner, the actor famous for playing Captain Kirk in Star Trek.
@WilliamShatner Yes, Standard Orbit, Captain. And we're detecting signs of life on the surface.
— Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) January 3, 2013
Hadfield and Shatner followed up the conversation with a live video link a few days later, and yesterday the astronaut participated in an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit. Could Commander Hadfield be the most culturally savvy astronaut ever to take to space?