When we think of the average SXSW attendee, let’s be honest, we think geek, but do we think science-loving, NASA-admiring geek? When I first started planning my trip to SXSW this year, I thought I would be surrounded by tech geeks and attending panels about the hottest social platforms and digital campaigns – but I was mistaken.
This morning our team interviewed John Yembrick, the social media manager for NASA, who oversees the 500+ social media channels for the institute. He spoke about the first tweet from space, why certain channels work better for their news, how social media has allowed them to connect to the public and why they have always thought that bloggers are a part of the media. (Keep an eye on our YouTube channel and video series playlist for the whole interview coming out soon.) Speaking with John was a great way to start my first full day at SXSW – we all totally geeked out and joked that being the social media manger for NASA was the as cool as you could get (to be really honest, I don’t think any of us were actually joking). As I was scrolling through the schedule on my handy SXSW app, I noticed how many of the panels were geared towards space, there is even a whole theme section dedicated to it.
I decided to switch up my schedule and continue my space day by attending the session, Crowd-Sourcing the Space Frontier, featuring Christopher Gerty of NASA’s Open Innovation Program, Darlene Damm, Founder & Co-Pres of DIYRockets, Edward Wright of the United States Rocket Academy/Citizens In Space and Stephen Murphey of the DIY Space Revolution. This session aimed to focus on the opportunities and challenges of crowd sourcing becoming popular in the space industry. Gerty summarized how NASA is looking to include crowd sourcing and funding as a way to leverage current NASA innovations throughout its missions. This is why it’s Open Innovation Program was created.
I have to admit, I didn’t know much about this program until today, but now I am fascinated. NASA is looking to make the government more open and participatory, to have everyday people become a real part of the exploration into space. Taking inspiration from programs like Random Acts of Kindness and hackathons, NASA wants to give everyone the tools to run experiments and aid future missions – basically innovation without competition. Gerty aptly noted, “The combination of robotics, crowd sourcing and human exploration is the key to NASA’s future.” A great example of how social and digital is fitting into all of this is the International Space Application Challenge which brings developers from around the world to collaborate to design new applications to aid in innovation and exploration at NASA.
All the speakers were fantastic, and the packed audience was glued to their seats throughout the session. Edward Wright made a few remarks that stayed with me as well. He noted that society has entered the third age of human spaceflight, a more accessible & affordable age of the citizen scientist. The term, “citizen scientist”, was used multiple times, really putting a perfect label on the idea of DIY space exploration.
The more I think about innovation in social and digital, the more I have come to realize that NASA is the perfect organization to do so. These were the guys that put a man on the moon, created satellites and made the Curiosity Rover one of the most memorable robots of all time – so of course they would lead in digital innovation. I expect big things in digital and social from NASA in coming years, but for now, I guess we will all have to settle for a live Google hangout with an astronaut in space.