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Educating NASA's Educators About Writing

By Keith Cowing
NASA Watch
August 12, 2006

NASA Sets Sights on the Next Generation of Explorers

“For a copy of the NASA Education Strategic Coordination Framework and information about agency education programs, visit:

Editor’s note: This document was clearly written by NASA personnel. You’d think that such a document – one that might be read by professional educators and people outside of NASA (the purpose of the press release, I assume) – would at least have gone through a screening by a professional editor first – both for grammar – and accuracy.

The errors start on the very first page. The document’s very first sentence “As we begin the second century of flight” is incorrect – inasmuch as humans first flew in 1783 in a hot air balloon and a century later, in 1895, in gliders. The sentence should read “As we begin the second century of powered flight”. The “second century of flight” was concluded 23 years ago.

This sentence goes on to say “and approach half a century of space exploration”. This too is wrong. V-2 rockets – carrying instrumentation – clearly entered space beginning in 1942/43 – albeit briefly. After the war, V-2 launches from White Sands went even higher – in 1946/47. As such the milestone of “half a century of space exploration” was arguably reached in the 1990’s – a decade ago.

There are also quirky grammatical errors – again beginning on the very first page: “Nation” and “Agency” are capitalized. NASA’s odd capitalization habits continue throughout the document. Here’s a weird example “NASAs education portfolio depends on the management of programs and projects for ultimate implementation and specific Outcomes. Through programs, projects, products and activities, the Outcomes are translated into specific objectives and measurable outputs.” Is there something at NASA with the formal name of “Outcome”?

Errors and grammar issues aside, this document was written as if it were an internal agency document – one that other NASA employees would read – and then implement. The text is stilted, filled with acronyms, organized like a requirements document, and presumes that the reader has a knowledge of NASA organization, operations, and philosophy.

Again, I am presuming that the use of a press release was a deliberate effort to promote broader knowledge of this program – and this document – outside of NASA. As such, one would think that there would be evidence of a “strategy” within NASA’s Strategic Communications Office whereby the document was tailored to best inform the target audience(s) in language they use – not the lingo NASA engineers use to talk to each other.

Moreover, you would think that this document would have been written such that someone who knows little – or nothing – about NASA could better understand what educational opportunities may exist in the context of what NASA does – and how it does it.

NASA Watch founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.