NASA on Display: Taking Space Exploration To The People

By Keith Cowing
May 13, 2007
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NASA on Display: Taking Space Exploration To The People

Editor’s note: I went down to the Mall in downtown Washington, DC on Friday to see the exhibits NASA had set up. Northrop Grumman’s full scale Webb Space Telescope mock up was very impressive (larger image). In addition to the exhibit itself, there were half a dozen people eager and ready to answer any questions a visitor might have. With tourist season in full swing there was no shortage of people stopping by to see these exhibits – and the more extensive military technology exhibits nearby. There were also scale models of the Shuttle, the Ares 1, and a full scale inflatable walkthrough mock up (of sorts) of the CEV.

The most complex exhibit NASA had was the long trailer focused on exploration that carries its mobile theater. I stood outside the exhibit for 10 minutes or so to watch the behavior of the NASA folks and the visitors. While there were just as many people staffing the NASA exhibit as were at the Webb exhibit, they really did not do anything except talk to each other. They were not proactive in asking people if they had any questions. No one from NASA was standing next to the large spacecraft models to explain what they were. Also, there was nothing significant to hand out to people outside the trailer.

All the NASA staff seemed to say to people was that the show inside the trailer was underway and that a new one would start in a few minutes. As I watched, more people turned and walked away and left the exhibit area than can be accommodated inside the trailer. That seemed to be a wasted opportunity to me since the people walking up to these exhibits were a representative slice through the American populace – not politicians.

Suggestion: NASA should have more material outside to either keep people’s attention while the show plays inside the trailer, or give them something to take away if they do not want to stand around in the hot sun and wait for the next show. Also, if NASA wants people to know what they are doing they need to go out and engage them one on one – not just stand there like movie ushers. The Webb people got it right.

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