The Bigger Picture: Minutes from a meeting about the use of media to promote space exploration

Minutes of the President’s Commission on Moon, Mars and Beyond

Hearings took place at the Asia Society 725 Park Avenue, New York City, Monday, May 3, 2004

The special panel on “Media-The Big Picture” included Mr. Rick Gelfond, Co-Chairman and Co-Chief Executive Officer of the IMAX Corporation; Mr. David Levy, Science Editor of PARADE Magazine and discoverer of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 and 20 other comets; and Mr. Craig Covault, Senior Editor of Aviation Week and Space Technology (AW&ST).

Mr. Gelfond spoke about the exploration message. He noted that IMAX is in about 30 countries. The first IMAX in China was Space Station in 3D (3-dimensional), and all of the kids who saw it were excited and engaged. He talked about the passion in people for space. IMAX has made five space films that have been seen by over 85 million people-one of the most successful film franchises. Seeing an IMAX space film inspires people to become astronauts. IMAX space films inspire viewers to imagine the human possibilities and think outside the box. More evidence for passion about space is the recent Mars mission. The space program and its benefits have been greatly under-marketed. For example, during the Mars mission, no web addresses were collected for follow-up-there was no way of getting back to people and marketing to them. Tom Cruise, the narrator for the International Space Station IMAX film, shares a passion for this.

Mars Global Surveyor
Opportunity’s Clouds MGS MOC Release No. MOC2-723, 11 May 2004. This composite of 7.5 km (4.7 mi) per pixel daily global images, acquired by the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC), shows water ice clouds over and to the east (right) of the Mars Exploration Rover (MER-B), Opportunity, landing site in Meridiani Planum. The “+” indicates the location of the rover site. Clouds high in the atmosphere above the Opportunity site have been a common occurrence in the afternoon for the past several weeks. This picture was obtained on 1 May 2004. The scale bar, 120 km (~75 mi), is approximate. North is toward the top/upper right. The bright area to the west (left) of the landing site is sunlight glinting off particles in the atmosphere and on the ground. The sun illuminates the scene from the left. Image Credit: Mars Global Surveyor, Malin Space Systems

In the 1960s’ the message was about competition with the Russians, acting on ideals, and being creative. We related with astronauts on a personal level. How do we reshape the message? The space program is being sold too narrowly-on a cost basis. We need to create an awareness of exploration on a broader scale. We need a leap of faith. The desire to explore is in our DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) code. Over history, exploring societies have been the more successful societies. We need to talk about the affect on medicine, engineering, etc. How to we communicate the message?

Many Americans have no example of role models for human potential. Film is one obvious way. There is a new 3D space film coming out- Magnificent Desolation-about the men who walked on the Moon, what they went through. We need to enlist the help of passionate celebrities. There needs to be commercials and advertising. IMG is a well-know sports marketing firm and is pitching a new reality series- the winner goes into the astronaut program. We shouldn’t be close-minded about things like this. Perhaps NASA TV should be broadened. Perhaps there needs to be some organization (other than NASA) in charge of marketing.

Mr. Levy commented that the big picture is what the idea of going back to the Moon and on to Mars is about. There have been two major problems whenever the idea is asked. In our post 9/11 culture, why are we thinking about going to the Moon? We are fighting to save our way of life, and what are we saving it for?

We are explorers. When we go to the Moon, we bring everybody with us. We have a cosmic heritage-a very basic and simple heritage and we see that when we look at the Moon. We go to the Moon in the hearts and minds of everyone. The Vision is bold. Mr. Levy offered a few ideas. We must make it inclusive- let it be augmented with a big push for science education. Another concern has been spending the money. Along with exploration, we should fund the global observing proposal that The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has come up with. This is a plan to record the conditions of our lands, oceans, and atmosphere. When complete, we will have accurate positioning of major weather events and 7-day weather forecasts. We don’t just explore Moon and Mars, we explore our own planet as well.

Mars is a laudable goal, but let’s focus on the Moon at the beginning-send people there and build a base. Expand our efforts to study how lunar resources can be exploited. Visit a near Earth asteroid. It would be a good idea to keep this Commission or some type of Steering Committee in place to oversee this initiative.

Mr. Covault stated that Aviation Week is into participatory journalism. It has been immersed in human and robotic space operations for a long time. It sees the benefits and challenges of space business around the globe. Around the world, space exploration is the universal language. Mr. Covault cited some of his experiences in Tibet and China. The China space program is very real, including the increasingly large number of Chinese engineers. We are at the starting line again. The implications, especially for math and science programs, are profound. McGraw Hill has adopted several ideas from Sally Ride. Since the success of the Mars rovers, Aviation Week has been looking at what it can do on the news and education side toward manned and robotic exploration.

Exploration has to be shared with the American taxpayers, and the media is the conduit for that sharing. NASA has lost the media on the ISS. Once assembly restarts, it has a chance to win the media back. ISS is defensible on a foreign policy basis and as a foothold for a lunar/Mars initiative. The robotic missions are becoming so productive, they might push human exploration further to the right in the schedule.

We must have a much better assessment of risk than the current models provide. Risk assessments for the rovers rated them as extremely risky, yet they were very successful.

How can NASA pull everything together for sustained support for the program to the Moon and Mars? Mr. Levy disagreed with any marketing approach that is “show biz.” He noted that NASA has a lot of work to do in this arena. Mr. Covault talked about his experience with the Mars rover team. No administration or Congress should underestimate the public’s willingness to share in that experience.

Mr. Aldridge commented that one of the themes is that this Vision is not just a NASA vision; it is a national vision. If it is truly a national vision, it must be justified from a national perspective. Should it be marketed at a higher level? Mr. Gelfond stated that NASA is not sufficient to do it on its own. Some new mechanism needs to be created, and it needs to include different constituencies-education, NASA, industry, and cominunication components. One of the problems is that it has been imposed upon NASA without many resources. You want to create an organization with broader cultural aspects to effectively communicate with the population. Mr. Levy cited the image of astronauts on the moon during Christmas of 1968 and how popular that was. As NASA goes from success to success, the missions themselves will be the publicity. We need to emphasize that we are exploring. Mr. Covault added that this Administration needs to spend some “political capital” on this initiative.

space station
IMAX movie poster, Space Station: “A select few have been aboard…Now it’s your turn.” Credit: IMAX, in cooperation with NASA

Dr. Tyson observed that Parade Magazine is largest and loudest of the media mouthpieces, and Mr. Levy is among the most articulate. How much more powerful a voice can we have? Still, not more than half of the public is in support of NASA’s space missions. What hope do we have to make this work? Mr. Levy indicated that we have to have a greater push for science education in our schools. We have to write a science article so that it does not lose the reader. Those readers must have a better background in science. Our journey back to the Moon should begin in an elementary school. The next generation should have science as a part of their daily lives.

In response to a question from Gen. Lyles, Mr. Covault indicated that the other part of McGraw Hill (publisher of Aviation Week) is in education-math and science. Aviation Week works to bring the two parts together. With respect to the aviation piece, there will always be people seriously interested in aviation, but there has to be a more serious emphasis that space is part of the aviation family. In response to a question from Dr. Zuber on untapped potential for human exploration, Mr. Covault commented that we will have to rebuild the human side. The real interest will continue with the rovers and Cassini as it moves in on Saturn. The Mars program will have sustained returns.

Mr. Levy added that the Web can help decide how we observe space. It will play a tremendous role and we need to take advantage of events that come to us that can get people interested.

Mr. Walker posed some questions: What will give people more of a sense of going? Are there things that could make the program more appealing to the public?

Mr. Gelfond suggested making this a “first person” experience rather than a “third person” experience. Technology has enabled much more of a first person experience. We are not getting to the people who don’t yet have the passion. It might be a good idea to create a website where people can direct experiments or get results, talk to people who are directly involved in the mission, etc. Mr. Levy noted that there is a Shuttle simulator at the Discovery Center in Arizona. It would be great if NASA could do more of that-working with museums to give people a hands on experience. Mr. Covault added that the Mars rovers have done a great job of public outreach and personal experience.

Ms. Fiorina commented on sustainability rationale. The Commission is concerned about the sustainability of the mission because it requires a long-term commitment and bipartisan and public support. The requirement for the broad based support means that we have to answer a fundamental question: Why are we bothering at all? There are a number of compelling rationales: the greatness and glory of the mission, a great nation should embark on great missions, it lifts the national spirit.

The Commission has heard comments that the Vision represents an opportunity for the US to lead the world in a positive way. We have heard about the scientific value of the mission. Exploration is a primary purpose and the scientific value goes to the ability to answer some fundamental questions, e.g., where did we come from? We have also heard about the inspiration of it all-the human as an explorer.

However, these rationales are not sufficient to compel a broad-based, long-term bipartisan level of support. The most fundamental reason is: if we don’t do it, someone else will. It is clear from the testimony that China, Russia, India and others have active space programs. Someone will eventually figure out how to send people into space and exploit that discovery. The U.S. should lead; if we don’t, others will, and it is important for us to be the first to protect our leadership in the world. The 21st century is about technology, and leadership in this century depends upon technology leadership. Today, our leadership is threatened by nations focused on gaining technology leadership. There has been debate about outsourcing, but if we want to stay leaders in high technology manufacturing, we must lead in high technology industries such as space and aeronautics. Every dollar spent in space is spent here on Earth, and if we do not take on this mission, our technology base will erode.

The second pragmatic reason is that technology leadership is key to economic leadership. U.S. children’s ability to compete in the 21st century is on a decline. We are becoming less, not more competitive. To reverse that trend, we must reengineer our education system, and an inspiring mission like space can do that. We have to lead in those industries that “pull” that labor. The journey on Earth is what this is all about and it is worthy of public support. We have to help people make that connection. Sustainability will require grass-roots support. We have to provide recommendations on how to keep this a broad-based mission with broad-based support. We are talking about straightforward communication that educates people about the pragmatic and necessary rewards. There are innovative ways to galvanize grass roots support. We are hearing about ideas for that. It will be important to keep the support going, and to have a set of metrics and milestones. It is very clear that the private sector will have to be engaged in this journey, more deeply than in missions before. This includes entrepreneurs, private capital, and venture capital.

Dr. Tyson noted that the Commission has reflected on the needs of the public to take ownership of this vision, or it will be taken from the national priorities by a disgruntled politician. The act of taking ownership is not new. The early astronauts belonged to the public. Back then, we all wanted to go, and today that is lost; however, it didn’t stop people from taking ownership of the Hubble Telescope. Such ownership of space ventures remains possible.

Mars Global Surveyor
Dark Barchan Dunes MGS MOC Release No. MOC2-725, 13 May 2004
Image Credit: Mars Global Surveyor, Malin Space Systems

What this vision is is a portal on how we used to do science, and how we can do science moving forward. Until now, all we could image was putting a telescope in low Earth orbit, or a fly-by of another planet, and an occasional lander, restricted by budget. Now, with the vision, the palette has grown. We know how to build large structures in space, but will not limit ourselves to low Earth orbit-we can be at Lagrangian points, in free space, etc. We will not only build large structures, but hardware that does stuff, e.g., turn carbon dioxide into fuel and search the soils for hydrogen or water. We can now think about building mini- factories. We can imagine going to planets, landing there, gathering materials, and coming back.

We need to charge the scientific community with rethinking what this represents as new opportunity, as a new palette on which to paint new dreams. The mechanism is already in place-the decadal survey. The community should look forward to revisiting the decadal survey in the context of the Vision. Science and technology lead each other. We need to find new mechanisms to ensure that the synergy remains in place-for the technologists to be in the same room with the scientists. There are three channels through which science is done. One is the kind of science done to expand our understanding of the cosmos. It is no less important in the total spectrum of science that must happen if we proceed in a sensible way.

There is high public interest science, e.g., the search for water and life, and the search for planets. Doing high public and scientific interest science must be in the palette of science that is conducted. There is a third kind-the science of security. The security of the whole planet is at stake. There are thousands of asteroids that cross Earth’s orbit, and they need to be characterized. We need to have as a goal the protection of the human species from these objects. Asteroids need to be on the agenda. Venus and Mars are wholly inhospitable to life. Something went wrong on these planets. Part of this Vision should be to find out what did go wrong to ensure that we are not turning those same knobs on Earth.

Dr. Spudis commented on one of the most visionary aspects of the exploration initiative-using space resources, something you can use off planet. It has inherent value to create new capability. The essence of sustainability is to create leverage. This is a great challenge and one of the most innovative. We need a new way of thinking about this. There is a synergy between science and engineering. There have been many presentations on resources. All of them emphasize the potential high leverage of lunar resources. The Moon actually contains the energy to bootstrap a space infrastructure. The materials are there. The issue is one of collecting and processing.

There should be a significant R&D effort for this in the new initiative. The key to living off planet is not having to take everything there. One example of an early use is to cover habitation with the lunar regolith. The Moon is about 40 percent oxygen, and we know how to extract oxygen. We have found that there is hydrogen on the Moon. What we don’t know is the state that hydrogen is in. NASA has developed a preliminary architecture to get the answers to these questions. Also, international missions to the Moon are planned. All will provide critical data that will allow us to assess materials on the Moon. The obvious next step is to go to the surface and make measurements.

We need to conduct some ground research to experiment with different extraction processes. Those could be followed by flight demos. This is a missing hub of expertise in NASA-it is at the nexus of mining and aerospace. An office of planetary engineering could merge these two centers of expertise. The potential is revolutionary. If we can do this, it totally revolutionizes the paradigm of space flight. It will create new opportunities for spacecraft that can be refueled in space and provide routine access to the lunar surface and any orbit between low Earth orbit and the moon. All of our commercial space assets occur in this space. All of these things would be affected. This is at the heart of creating new capability.

Exploration offers up commercial opportunity, and this is particularly true in the area of space resources. This is a classic example of an area ripe for transition once NASA has pioneered the way.

Mr. Aldridge drew names at random for public comment

Bruce Gayner: The U.S. army created, a simulation game. It improved the Army’s image. Some of us working with NASA Ames did a similar program. Why can’t we do a game like this to help get people excited? On-line things like this will get people involved.

Related Web Pages

Moon To Mars Commission
JPL Mars Rovers