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MER Public Outreach, How can we help people to "get it"?
Stu
post Aug 5 2006, 03:35 PM
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(I have been trying to post this for an hour as a reply to the "Press Conference for Victoria?" thread but for some reason it won't let me, so apologies for what some might see as starting a new topic needlessly...)

Why give a press conference to mark reaching Victoria, or, for that matter, why give one for anything? What's a good reason?

Well, it seems to me that the best - possibly only - good reason to give a formal press conference - the whole panel-behind-a-long-table deal - now is to reveal to the world a Major Discovery, something that absolutely has to have global attention because it has phase-change consequences, repercussions either for "man in the street science" (changing a previously cherished theory or understanding) or practical day to day issues. It's not worth it just to let people know that an odometry milestone has been reached, or a new class of rock has been found, or a big panorama has been completed, because 1) treating everything like that would lessen their impact, and 2) most people - press included - basically don't give a monkey's about those things, which might frustrate those of us here who adore the day to day dramatic explorations of Spirit and Oppy, but it's just the way of the world.

Why? Why the lack of interest? I've been pondering this and think there are several reasons. Firstly, the fact is, while we get twitchy if we don't get our daily fix of UMSF or Exploratorium, most people out there really aren't bothered about what's going on on Mars, around Saturn, or half-way to Pluto because they've no time for it, it's not a feature of their everyday lives. They have kids to raise, bills to pay, jobs to hold down... Sure, they'll maybe think "Hmmm, interesting..." when they hear that a plucky little robot has climbed a hill on Mars, but it's just not that big a deal, especially when the Middle East is about to go up like a special effects sequence from a Jerry Bruckheimer movie... As others have pointed out, "space" isn't a big public new story, a "water cooler story", unless it's Bad news, a shuttle crashing, a spaceprobe being lost, a telescope mirror being the wrong shape. If there's a mistake to uncover, or a scapegoat to blame, or coffins to photograph then hey, Lois Lane has herself a story. If everything's going right, or better than planned, booooooooring. Next celebrity wedding or embarrassing Britney Spears baby incident, please...

Other people don't care because they are, they say, morally opposed to space exploration because they think (some of them genuinely and sincerely, it has to be said) it's irrelevent to our everyday lives, they think that it's an indulgent, money-gobbling waste of scientific energy and funds at a time when the world faces huge challges from global warming, disease, poverty etc... These are often, I've found, the very same people who think nothing of splashing out on expensive restaurant meals, food for their pets, DVD rental, cosmetics, books and magazines... but point out to them that if they cared so much about AIDS or world poverty or homelesnesss they'd buy a couple less trendy novels a year, or buy a few bottles of wine less and send the money to Oxfam or Save The Children then wow, stand back from the fiery breath of their indignation! Change MY lifestyle? Deprive me of my KFC and Batman dvd rental? I don't think so...!

And I don't mean to be unkind, but someone has to say it because we all know and think it - other people, let's face it, are just too stupid and ignorant to have any interest in what's happening "out there". They just aren't aware of what's going on in the world, or beyond it, and don't CARE, as long as they have their cable TV to watch, beer to drink and spouses to punch. Who cares about all that Flash Gordon crap when there's a big game on!!

This "Why don't people get it?!?!?" question flares up in my mind every time I see that glazed-over "Huh?" expression on someone's face when I try to communicate to them the excitement and value of the MER missions and other planetary exploration mission. And yes, it's frustrating, and annoying. I want to grab them by the throat and say "Look! That's a picture from Mars! It was taken by a robot that's lasted over ten times as long as it was supposed to, and was beamed back to Earth to be available on the Internet - for free - a matter of hours later! It's like having a webcam on Christopher Columbus' shoulder, on on Lewis and Clark's hats... don't you see that?!?!? What are you, STOOPID?!?!?!?!?!"

It always amazes, saddens and angers me that the world has countless millions, probably hundreds of millions of people blissfully unaware that we live in an amazing solar system in a spectacularly grand galaxy, which is drifting through a universe of billions of galaxies... I wish I could take them all outside on a clear Lake District night, point up at the sky and make them see that the Sun is one icy crystal in a single snowflake lost in a swirling, drifting, howling blizard of snowflake-like galaxies that is the universe...

Press Conferences aren't going to put across that excitement, they can't. The Hubble people know that, they don't bother with press conferences, they just release killer images and let the pictures speak for themselves. Press conferences are nothing to do with public outreach or education. That's someone else's job.

Whose? OURS. We are the experts and enthusiasts, the ones who "get it", who have the pictures collected and filed and ready to put into Powerpoints and printed out and laminated ready to show people. We're the ones who could - and should - be doing Outreach work in our communities, doing talks to school and community groups, putting on displays of pictures of Mars in our local library or museum, giving people lists of websites to go to to learn more. But why should we? Haven't we got kids to raise and jobs to hold down too? We should because we Get It, and we Get It because we've been given so much, so it's the least we can do, that's why.

So no, I don't think a big press conference with hard-to-see pictures projected on a wall behind a panel of experts wearing "I'd rather be anywhere but here" expressions is the way to get interest going again. The way to get interest going again is to focus on that forgotten middle word in the MER abbreviation. EXPLORATION. The rovers are explorers, they're seeing new things, learning new things, discovering stunning landscapes day after day after day. NASA isn't telling people that, isn't getting that message across I'm afraid, tho some - Steve Squyres and Jim Bell - are trying hard to spread the word. No, I think it's up to us I'm afraid.

If NASA holds a Victoria-related press conference than I hope they'll make it a shameless "For cripes sake, LOOK at this place! Forget the science, this view is GORGEOUS!!!!" celebration of the place, and the planet. If they flash up a picture of a load of float, or a plate of rock, then get some talking head to drone on about how important it is in the bigger geological picture then it'll be a waste of time and money as far as public Outreach and education is concerned. Forget that! Go for the killer punch! Make the rovers, if only for one day, celebrities, play up their amazing journeys, shamelessly tug at the heart strings with images of the poor rovers dragging crippled wheels behind them, or fighting their way out of sand dunes; show sunsets and shadows; forget the Pan and Navcam images, show the achingly-beautiful landscapes in the images created by people like Ant, Dilo, Nirgal, Doug, Olivier and horton etc. Let's play the world at its own game.

Because unless we manage to turn the public - and the media - on to the true beauty and drama and worth of the MER mission then the next big MER-related story is going to be the terminal decline or sudden death of one of the rovers.

And they deserve better than that.


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dilo
post Aug 5 2006, 05:03 PM
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A beautiful post, Stuart...
I have hesitated to reply, your words appear so exhaustive. And my english language is so poor.
However I would like to add a small observation.

You missed to say what I consider the main reason for this lack of interest in space exploration: simply a lack of sensibility! You should know, you are an artist and you cannot remain indifferent in front of a sunset... especially if the sunset is on Mars, and a human-made machine taken the picture few hours ago for us!
You cannot avoid to see the incredible beauty and poetry of light playing with Saturn rings and moons, not to speech of the deep gratitude for the effort made by all previous generations, who gived us the privilege and the joy to see all these things. And, perhaps, the responsability, as you said.
Most people are simply insensible to this, or even scared from how small and insignificant we are in the universe. Is better to play with smaller things, tricking ourselves.

But, at the end, you told all this when you said "we Get It"! wink.gif

Thanks.


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djellison
post Aug 5 2006, 06:53 PM
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The problem is, and this is the very simple, very basic core of the entire topic.

Some people just don't care.

To us, that makes no sense. But I'm afraid it doesn't have to. I don't care about football and I struggle to understand some people do....but they do. I don't really want someone ramming football down my throat to try and make me care about it...because I just don't care. When it's on the news ( and it is..a lot ) I just don't take any notice.

Now - we might say "but that's just football...we're talking about a DIFFERENT PLANET with ROVERS taking PICTUREs...don't you understand how AMAZING that is?".... but I'm afraid you can just swap the words around and it's equally valid "but that's just space...we're talking about the end of season PLAYOFFS we might get back in the PREMIERESHIP and play in EUROPE". I've seen the same arguments made in a few fields on interest....but rarely do people admit that at a root level, the majority of people just don't care about what we're interested in - and no matter how you butter it, how you show it, what you say or the way you say it...they will forever not give a damn about it.

Are those people wondering why I don't 'get' football? I hope not..

I've given talks to astronomy societys and you can tell that almost all the audience love the subject matter and understand the implications and the wonder of it all.

I've given talks to schools and you can tell that most of the audience, 13-18, don't really care. Some do however, and it is very very worth while taking the time to engage with them, instill some knowledge and enthusiasm within them. But the rest, and indeed the majority of the public who don't give two hoots about space in general....I wouldn't describe them as a 'lost cause' - but I don't think we should expect to be able to change them either.


Doug
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Stu
post Aug 5 2006, 07:28 PM
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I hear what you're saying Doug, but the difference is people SHOULD care - and yes, IMHO should be made to care - about space exploration because it's the only insurance policy we've got as a species.

If we don't win the World Cup... again... no one will die. But if we don't start to work towards becoming a multi-planet species, if we persist in keeping all our eggs in this one rickety basket that's - in cosmic terms - standing on a field in the middle of a weapons testing range, then that's it, game over: our evolution a waste of time, our culture and history lost. Shakespeare, gone. Turner and Constable, gone. Galileo, Ptolemy, Copernicus, Hawking, gone. Mozart, Beethoven, Mary Chapin Carpenter, gone. The only signs of us ever having been here a small handful of spaceprobes scattered through the solar system, orbiting some worlds, standing on others... the Voyagers and Pioneers drifting through the endless night... a few abandoned lunar module descent stage platforms surrounded by flags, urine bags and garbage here and there on the Moon... a bubble of radio signals slowly expanding out from where Earth used to be, one sharp outer edge marking the first broadcast, another sharp inner edge marking the last, probably some panicked reporter screaming "I can see the asteroid coming in now! My god! It's - "

hisssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss........ then silence....

That's what'll happen if we don't enthuse people about space travel and exploration. At the moment I feel like I'm one of a small handful of people standing on the deck of the Titanic, knowing there's a big iceberg up ahead, knowing we're heading right for it, but also knowing that we've time to build enough lifeboats for everyone if we tear down all the ridiculously ornate staircases and panelling and use them to make boats!

Cliche I know, but true. The meek shall inherit the Earth - or what's left of it. The wise will b****r off to the stars. wink.gif

That's why I personally feel it's so important to communicate the importance of the MER missions. Mars is where we'll go first, but we aren't going there unless and until our little robot buddies have checked the place out thoroughly first. Spirit and Oppy are, if you look at it that way, evolutionary steps. There's a thought.

(And I know what you mean about kids aged 13+ being a waste of time, they are, mostly, and the ones that want to learn and listen are ridiculed by their peers. That's why I only talk in junior schools. Grab them before they turn into 50 Cent-worshipping, shell-suit and cheap jewellery wearing fake street gang jive talking little animals... mad.gif )


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Stu
post Aug 5 2006, 07:44 PM
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QUOTE (Stu @ Aug 5 2006, 07:28 PM) *
That's why I only talk in junior schools. Grab them before they turn into 50 Cent-worshipping, shell-suit and cheap jewellery wearing fake street gang jive talking little animals... mad.gif )


Not that I'm being judgemental or intolerant or anything... wink.gif


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dilo
post Aug 5 2006, 08:14 PM
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Sirs, about football and world cup, you can imagine what happened in Italy few weeks ago. All the people were almost "forced" to follow the final play and celebrate victory, while I was sleeping in my bed ph34r.gif ... for many days, I avoided to see/hear television/radio/newspapers because the world cup was the only important think to speak of! This absolutely negligible thing was, strangely, the only important event in the mind of all!
QUOTE
Is better to play with smaller things, tricking ourselves

Stuard, your post-holocaust description is terrific and beautiful too but, frankly, I dont think humanity will be destroyed by such a natural event (we are clearly going to destroy our planet with pollution, wars and other stupid things) and I do not believe we can restart from another planet... but I'm pessimistic, I know! rolleyes.gif


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djellison
post Aug 5 2006, 08:40 PM
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QUOTE (Stu @ Aug 5 2006, 08:28 PM) *
space exploration because it's the only insurance policy we've got as a species.


Ahh - that's an all together different kettle of fish - didn't know that was the bigger picture you were looking at.

THAT challenge is even harder in that regard because look how hard it is to get people to acknowledge the damage we're doing to the environment !! Try and explain that at some point in the future, the Earth will no longer be habitable....and you'll just get 'huh'.

Doug
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alan
post Aug 5 2006, 09:17 PM
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Before you all get depressed about no one caring you should read this:
http://planetary.org/blog/
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stevesliva
post Aug 6 2006, 12:58 AM
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QUOTE (Stu @ Aug 5 2006, 03:28 PM) *
I hear what you're saying Doug, but the difference is people SHOULD care - and yes, IMHO should be made to care - about space exploration because it's the only insurance policy we've got as a species.

I don't think you should use ateroid apocalypse as an argument in favor of exploring Mars. Wouldn't the money be better spent visiting asteroids and trying to modify their orbits?

People find exploration fascinating, but they find it fascinating in the past tense. They want human drama and excitment. And there is a large aspect of being FIRST that makes for that drama. Even better is a RACE, be it for the South Pole, Mt Everest, or the Moon. All that is left in this mission is new scenery.

As the press would tell you, you need a story.
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Jeff7
post Aug 6 2006, 04:03 AM
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The other problem is the money. People say "ooh, a rover on Mars. How much did it cost? $400M for each one???? Why can't I have that money????? What a waste, all for pictures of a bunch of ROCKS!" That's the sort of thing that we'd be up against. It's not just the rovers that some people oppose, it's the entire space program.
"Spend the money on other programs. The space program is useless." - 1) Tell your local goverment, "Here's $16B dollars, spend it responsibly." They'll look at each other and start laughing hysterically, before leaving for lavish vacations. It will just be wasted anyway. 2) Technology spinoffs. Space program research has all kinds of useful spinoffs - improvements in solar and battery technology, robotics, osteoporosis research, and others. But people fail to see this. They only see "Memory Foam Mattresses, with technology developed by the space program!" Yay, cheap junk courtesy of NASA.

Then realize that the US spends more money each year on DVDs than is spent on NASA's entire budget. See previous point about money being spent responsibly. laugh.gif


But hey, I do what I can to raise awareness of the rovers. I wear this. At college, back in late 2005, someone did notice it, and he received a bit of a news update, mainly that, yes, the rovers are both still working. His last news update was quite dated: Spirit was having memory problems.
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hendric
post Aug 6 2006, 05:09 AM
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Jeff's got it right. The correct way to inspire is individually. A press conference just doesn't do it justice, because nobody would watch it. Instead, print some giant prints of the McMurdo pan, or the Endurance pan, or Homeplate (like I did!) and put them up at work, or in your garage where neighbors can see it.

Or, buy a T-shirt like this for your three year old:

Attached Image


and tell him stories about the intrepid rovers Spirit and Opportunity: One with a broken wheel, stuck in a valley, slowly freezing and starving; another driving across a sandy sea with a broken arm, getting stuck in sand dunes, exploring craters, and nearing Victoria.

smile.gif

BTW, thanks Astro0 for those wonderful pictures I used for the T-shirt! rolleyes.gif


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Astro0
post Aug 6 2006, 01:42 PM
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No problem hendric...a tshirt is a nice idea.
OK UMSF'ers, here's the challenge. Design a MER Tshirt, poster, postcard or whatever, that promotes the Rover mission and sells the importance of the mission to the public.
An image, montage, slogan, whatever it takes to get the message through that this MER-thing is important stuff. Prizes? Let me think about that. Perhaps having the winning item actually produced (a one-off?) Something to think about as Spirit sees through the remaining winter and Opportunity travels to VC.

My day job is public space education and outreach at the DSN complex in Canberra.
70,000 people a year come along to find out what we do and I'd say that 95% leave fascinated, but overall, less than 5% actually 'get it' like we all do. that doesn't mean that you should only talk to the 5%. Keep telling people and the numbers will build over time.

Getting the media interested is difficult, but forget the general media, cultivate the reporters, commentators and journalists that are interested and feed them as much info as possible. Keep the news trickling out there no matter the frustrations. If it IS a slow news day, fine then let a space story fill the gap on that slow news day, don't lament it. Coverage is coverage.

As space enthusiasts/advocates we all have a job...keep the faith and keep preaching. Whether it's to the converted or those with a passing interest. Just about everyone I talk to will say "Why isn't there anything about these Rovers in the media?", "How can I find out more?".

Well UMSF'ers, tell them where they can find out more, pass on what you know. Tell them where to find the daily images, where the news is, how to get onto the UMSF board, etc.

Write the poetry and stories (Stu), draw the maps (PhilStooke, James and Tesheiner), create the vistas (Nirgal, Nix, Ant plus all the others), write the reports (Emily), do the talks (marsloon), keep the discussion flowing (Doug).

Do whatever you can, whoever you are, and with the talents you demonstrate on UMSF.
We are the dedicated (obsessed?smile.gif). We are the teachers (even to the 13-18 year olds).
Don't just talk the talk...walk the walk...or rove the Rover.

One press conference isn't going to do it.
We all need to do our bit everyday to promote, enthuse and excite the public and a new generation of space explorers.
Pass on what you have learned.

Astro0
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Stu
post Aug 6 2006, 03:25 PM
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Very enjoyable afternoon in the library here in Kendal today. 10 kids - aged 5-12yrs - came along, first to listen to and watch a 20min Powerpoint presentation about Mars (featuring images by horton, Ant, Astro and other members here, so thanks again guys) then scampered through to the craft room where too-colourful-to-be-true paints, glue, glitter and crepe paper were all waiting. While most, predictably, drew, painted, gummed and glittered their versions of gloopy aliens, space rockets and monsters, two - both girls - actually painted Mars, complete with craters, a "ginormous volcano" and little rovers driving across it, and kept asking me questions about it as they worked. They loved seeing 3D images taken by Spirit and Oppy, actually reaching out their hands to try and touch the rocks and stones, and their eyes went as wide as saucers when they actually held my phial of treasured, tiny pieces of the martian Zagami meteorite.

At the end all the kids got a couple of Mars bars (well, what else?! wink.gif ) and a shiny Cassini-Huygens bookmark, courtesy of the good people at NASA who sent me abox full of them a couple of years ago.

At the end of the session one of the girls went through the "space and astronomy" section like a locust in a cornfield, filling her arms with books to take home.

Fave quote of the day? "I thought space was boring, but now I know it's not. When I'm older I want to go to Mars and wave at everyone on Earth." I think she might.

As the great man said: I love it when a plan comes together... smile.gif


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David
post Aug 6 2006, 04:42 PM
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QUOTE (Stu @ Aug 6 2006, 03:25 PM) *
At the end of the session one of the girls went through the "space and astronomy" section like a locust in a cornfield, filling her arms with books to take home.

Fave quote of the day? "I thought space was boring, but now I know it's not. When I'm older I want to go to Mars and wave at everyone on Earth." I think she might.


Thanks for the story! That's the kind of thing that really brings a biggrin.gif to your face.
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ups
post Aug 6 2006, 05:33 PM
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To sum up my opinion quickly on this -- I believe Nasa needs to be more creative in their discussions of missions. Less cut and dry scientific - with more of a style of Carl Sagan/ Brian Greene when decribing whatever new amazing thing they have come across. A public spokesman in the frame of say Robert Krulwich would do wonders for explaining to the general public what the exactly these missions are accomplishing currently and moving forward.

Nasa needs a better mix of fun and wonder with the serious science they are detailing during news conferences -- more often than not they are much too dry.


---ups
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