News: August 2007 Archives

Editor's 31 August update: Well, the Houston Chronicle printed Mike Coats' letter. But they also altered their OpEd and removed the comment about the non-NASA accident. Curiously, they did not have the journalistic honesty to admit to their readers that they made a mistake in the first place.

Curiously, these inept students of spaceflight history at the Houston Chronicle still do not get it. They state "... after hundreds of space shuttle flights". Um, "hundreds" would mean multiple hundred i.e. at least more than 200. NASA is nowhere close to mounting "hundreds of space shuttle flights". Nor will it ever do so.

Falling objects - NASA's rash of problems threatens to erode public confidence in the space program, editorial, Houston Chronicle

"This year NASA has suffered: .... An explosion at a rocket motor test sight near Edwards Air Force Base in California killed two persons and critically injured four others."

Editor's 26 August note: This unfortunate accident and loss of life had nothing to do with NASA. I am not certain why the sloppy editorial staff at the Chronicle stuffed it in here. The net result is to use someone else's tragedy to make a cheap editorial point. As for the other items raised in this piece, they don't speak well of the intelligence or research credibility of the Houston Chronicle. Oh yes - just what is a "rocket motor test sight"? Do they mean test "site"? These folks at the Chronicle certainly don't have space lingo down - an odd thing for a newspaper that counts the home of NASA's human space flight programs among its home turf - and has done so for decades.

NASA JSC Center Director Mike Coats' response to Sunday's Houston Chronicle op/ed

Editor's update: The following is the full text of NASA JSC Center Director Mike Coats' response to Sunday's Houston Chronicle op/ed provided to NASA Watch and SpaceRef by NASA JSC PAO:

"Sunday's Houston Chronicle (Falling Objects) presented an unbalanced and biased portrayal of NASA and the thousands of people working in our space program whose technological achievements have been a major contributor to the robust economy we enjoy and largely take for granted. I must take this opportunity to correct the misleading and inaccurate information portrayed as fact: The rocket engine explosion that killed two people in California involved a private company unrelated to NASA operating at a facility miles away from the Edwards Air Force Base. The "facts" in the editorial are completely in error.

NASA's Star Wars Stunt, IGN

"In honor of the 30th anniversary of Star Wars, NASA will launch Luke Skywalker's original Jedi lightsaber into space along with the crew of the space shuttle Discovery. The launch is slated for October."

Its Inventory Time Again

NASA ARC Internal Memo: Reminder to NASA Equipment Users that Deadline is Aug. 31, 2007

"Please note however that the changes submitted by the user in the Equipment User Validation System will not automatically change the NEMS data. The user's cognizant equipment specialist will need to make those changes to NEMS using information provided by the user in the Equipment User Validation System."

Editor's note: First of all, what "equipment" is covered by this memo? Desks? Pencils? Why does someone need to input all of this information if "The user's cognizant equipment specialist will need to make those changes to NEMS using information provided by the user in the Equipment User Validation System." Why can't the software do that on its own once the data is entered by the user and skip that step - after all, you are asking employees to verfy the information? On the other hand, why can't the "cognizant equipment specialist" do the data entry and thus remove the need for someone else to enter it and then have this "cognizant equipment specialist" actually make the changes?

No wonder NASA can't find things - it sends out confusing memos to its employees like this - and expects them to figure things out. Moreover, on one hand it trusts employees to have accurate information - but it does not trust them to enter that information into a final database. But NASA spends money instead on additional warm bodies to do that data entry. You know, I'll bet NASA could spend the same amount of money it wastes on hiring "cognizant equipment specialists" (and lost staff time) and have RFID tags put on everything. That way, things will update this database every time they are moved - without human intervention. If you can put a property tag on something, you can put an RFID tag on it. Besides, Ames, Silicon Valley is just outside your gate. Someone out there must know how to do this.

- Property Management: Lack of Accountability and Weak Internal Controls Leave NASA Equipment Vulnerable to Loss, Theft, and Misuse, GAO

- NASA Equipment Management Manual Last Updated 06/06/2007 CHAPTER 4: NASA Equipment Management Systems (NEMS)

We Sing The Body Eclectic

Vintage Bradbury, Packaged Anew, NY Times

"I'm surrounded by my metaphors," said Mr. Bradbury, who acknowledges that the science in his books is often faulty and serves only as a vehicle for his fiction. He'll provide the inspiration, he says, and let the scientists worry about the particulars. "The arts and sciences are connected," he continued. "Scientists have to have a metaphor. All scientists start with imagination."

Imagery for the People

Europlanet : Conference Conundrum, Planetary Society

"... I want to explain to people what happens when you take the brave step of throwing raw imagery on the web quickly - something which we've seen with MER and Cassini, but currently you couldn't imagine any ESA mission considering doing. The mosaics, animations, software, maps, graphs that people make - even the suggestions for images that the New Horizons team considered - and took."

Whining about Whiners

Eats, shoots, and leaves, The Space Review

"The Internet has not exactly contributed to good manners. Internet writers frequently employ various below-the-belt rhetorical tricks to attack people they don't like. One of the most common is to state that another writer is "whining." It's an attempt to label the other person as immature and petty, a baby."

Editor's note: I find it rather silly - and sanctimonious - that Dwayne Day (who works for the prestigious National Academy of Sciences Space Studies Board) has taken to whining about whiners - and does so using pretty much the same tactics he chastises others for using. People who live in glass houses ...

Reader note: "Hello Keith:

I thought you might be interested into what I have seen on the KSC Video Feeds Page [enlarge] just a moment ago. Someone seems to be watching dragster racing during business hours.

Have a look.

Regards, [NASA Watch reader] from Irmenach, Germany"

Shuttle Diplomacy, commentary, The Conservative Voice

"This culture of arrogance and ignorance is the same reason that we've already lost 2 shuttles and their crews. But this culture is by no means unique to NASA.It's the same culture that allowed Minnesota commuters to cross that bridge, without giving them what many would consider adequate warning about its true condition. It's the same culture that told Utah miners it was safe to descend into that mine. It's the same culture that allows innocent children to be repeatedly raped and murdered by sexual deviants all across the US. It's the same culture that allows US soldiers to continue patrolling Iraqi highways in lightly armored Humvees, knowing that terrorists would rather plant a roadside bomb or hit them with a VBIED, than confront them directly."

Editor's note: Just as the author was about to make a point about engineering and operational risk assessments. he goes off the deep end - linking NASA accidents to child sexual abuse and military tactics in Iraq ... yea right.

The Future Of NASA, Forbes

"Orbiting approximately 200 miles into the heavens, the space shuttle Endeavour has a small but deep gash in its belly, caused by falling debris during liftoff last week. NASA officials have taken days to decide whether the hole threatens the safety of the crew or if the astronauts need to get out to repair the damage. The U.S. space agency is already weathering a veritable meteor shower of problems, including allegations of corruption, underfunding, drunken and disturbed astronauts, and even murder. Can anything be done to turn things around?"

Skydiver plans head-first freefall from the edge of space in dizzying bid to break Mach 1, Daily Mail

"He will leap head-first from a weather balloon 25 miles above Earth and plummet at more than 1,000mph with only a parachute for company. He will face external temperatures of minus 100c while inside his carbon-fibre suit it will be a stifling 65c - almost 150 fahrenheit. And most amazing of all, Michel Fournier is actually looking forward to it."

Message from the Chief, Office of Strategic Communications Updated Memo on NASA Messages - August 9, 2007

"The Message Construct serves to guide your communication efforts with the general public. We are asking that you use the Core Message: "NASA explores for answers that power our future," in the text of your communications material, when appropriate and that it be used verbatim. We also have developed a graphic element to illustrate and enhance the Core Message. The graphic element is: Inspiration + Innovation + Discovery = Future. It is recommended, not required, that the graphic element be used on agency communications materials. The other messages in the Message Construct are also market tested and should be used where best applicable."

Hopkins says: "The graphic element is: Inspiration + Innovation + Discovery = Future." But wait Bob, those are words, not a "graphic element" - or are you still referring to the graphic that you put in this 1 August 2007 memo and this 5 June 2007 memo? I am not the only person who is confused.

Further, Bob Hopkins now says "It is recommended, not required, that the graphic element be used on agency communications materials." Whereas he was much more explicit about its universal usage when he said here just last week that "The graphic element is to be used on all Agency communications materials.". So Bob, did you change your mind? Did someone change it for you? Or was this a flawed attempt on your part to communicate this aspect of NASA's overall Strategic Communications Framework Implementation Plan? Are the "Core Message" and the "Graphic Element" one in the same? That is how you show them in the "graphic" you have been putting in memos and briefings.

If you meant to say that the words "Inspiration + Innovation + Discovery = Future" are what is to be posted on everything then say "words" or "phrase" not "Graphic Element". And if the words within the blue triangle graphic are to be used as the "Core Message" then you might want to call out the words - as words - and not present them as part of a Graphic Element.

What is just plain hilarious about this is the initial memo purports to communicate the new communications message to NASA's leadership - yet it fails to communicate and cannot clearly differentiate between "words" and "graphics". Anyone with such a blatant lack of writing expertise should be kept as far away from communications activities as possible. The same goes for anyone (Bob Hopkins) who approves the issuance of such a confusing memo - to say nothing of the vapid and mediocre content it contains.

And yet, does StratComm contact me or other news media to clarify the issue - one that is spreading across the agency? No. They just wait until someone@nasa.gov sends me the memo they distributed internally - to a wider list than they sent the earlier memo to, by the way.

Crowded Blue Triangles, Core Messages, Message Constructs, and Graphic Elements - NASA's Office of Strategic Communications - starting at the top - is clearly in over its collective head. This parade of confusing messages and terminology - and the hollow, half-completed, and uninspired ideas that are put forth - is proof positive that this crowd is out to lunch, adrift without a clue, oblivious to the obvious, etc. and needs to be replaced.

Reader note: Keith, Upon reading your intro to the blue triangle story, I was inspired to look up the USDA food pyramid online. If you go to MyPyramid.gov, on the right hand side you will see animation of the food pyramid launching into space towards the stars ending with an image of an astronaut and planet. It is a link to the My Pyramid Blast Off game that kids can play. How sad that NASA HQ can't come up with anything remotely as NASA as the USDA can.

I used to work in public outreach for NASA. There was never any recognition by management of the talent needed to do the job nor any realization that outreach deserved a proper budget. Now outreach is saddled with misguided direction from HQ such as the CMR guidelines and this latest crap.

I frequently was asked by the public, "Where can I go to find out about all the things we have learned from the over 100 shuttle missions?". The answer, as far as I was ever able to determine, is that there is no place to go. NASA likes to talk about hardware and how it works but not what we have learned along the way. That sure makes it hard for the tax payer to care about NASA.

Former NASA Public Outreach Peon

Internal NASA Memo from Robert Hopkins, Chief, Office of Strategic Communications: NASA Messages

"The Message Construct serves to guide your communication efforts with the general public. We are asking that you use the Core Message: "NASA explores for answers that power our future," in the text of your communications material and that it be used verbatim. We also have developed a graphic element to illustrate and enhance the Core Message. The graphic element is: Inspiration + Innovation + Discovery = Future. The graphic element is to be used on all Agency communications materials. The other messages in the Message Construct are also market-tested and should be used where best applicable."

Editor's note: Oh great: a big honking government logo that looks like the USDA healthy school lunch pyramid to teach us why space is important. Where are the astronauts, planets, and rocket ships? THAT is what makes people think about space!

This document is just another stale product written by faceless swarms of people sitting in government office cubicles who think they understand the real world. They always manage to miss the mark. This one misses it by a mile. This whole effort purports to be the new way NASA reaches out - and makes itself relevant to - the tax paying public.

Yet there is not a thing in here that addresses the core reason - the core emotion and aspiration - that most people associate with space exploration: that they can get to go there - personally. Where is the "me" in all of this? If I gave this to someone in 4th - 6th grade would they understand it? Not really. Would they feel like this was a personal invitation? I doubt it. And if you have lost the most impressionable sector of our society you ain't gonna get the rest of us interested.

Everything in this document and the stilted PowerPoint slides that back it is stale, recycled, and doomed to fail. NASA's Strategic Communications Office simply doesn't get it.

Time to start over.

Comments? Send your comments to nasawatch@reston.com. Your comments thus far:

Editor's attempt at humor: The Graphic Element runners-up continue to surface. This idea ignores the triangle and focuses on the verbal equation. I am told that this one was a particular favorite of Spock's Mike Griffin's due to the "smartest guy in the room" approach it uses to pitch the idea.

Alas, Bob Hopkins and his Strategic Communications experts decided that most people can't do math and that this would confuse them. Besides, NASA only uses whiteboards - not chalkboards.

NASA's Exploration Mission: And the Children Shall Reach Out - and Lead, SpaceRef

"Every now and again even the most cynical of us stumble across something so simple - and yet profound - as to take one's breath away - and remind us of why we are so captivated with space exploration's broader ramifications."

Editor's note: Every now and then NASA gets it right. This video comes from the pre-Bob Hopkins era. This may not work for all audiences (there is more than one audience out there, Bob) but it works with some - I have seen it work with my own eyes.

Editor's attempt at humor: Some of the runner up concepts for the Graphic Element aka 'Blue Triangle' have begun to surface.

Although they are not any better at conveying NASA's value - and potential - to the public, at least some of them indicate that a few people on Bob Hopkins' Strategic Communications staff have some inkling of what comprises popular culture these days.

Why America Needs to Explore Space, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Parade Magazine

Editor's note: If NASA's Strategic Communications folks worked on getting more articles like this out there (I do not know if they had a hand in this) they'd do a lot more for the cause of space exploration than a bunch of awkward PowerPoint slides and "elevator speeches". Dr. Tyson conveys more eloquence in one sentence than NASA does in a pile of its internal studies. Millions of people were exposed to this as the cover story in their weekend newspapers. Alas, looking at the reader comments appended to Dr. Tyson's article, StratComm still has a long way to go to convince people that NASA actually does anything of value - for them personally - or for us as a nation.

DFRC to become AFRC?

NASA center may get Armstrong name, DailyNews

"Four California congressmen, including both of the Antelope Valley's representatives, have introduced legislation to rename the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center after test pilot and Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first to walk on the moon. The legislation would re-designate NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center as the Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center, but would still honor the center's current namesake by naming the Western Aeronautical Test Range as the Hugh L. Dryden Aeronautical Test Range."


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