It's a difficult task.
The Office of Commercial Space Transportation at the FAA needs to tap into the same level of fervor that surrounded the adventure of space travel decades ago with Shepherd's first flight, Glenn's first orbit, and Armstrong's first step.
The office regulates private human spaceflight, as well as the privately produced rockets that shoot toward the heavens. But just like the FAA was charged with promoting the airline industry from its infancy until 1996, the Office of Commercial Space Transportation — under direction from Congress — must promote an industry that is at its advent.
Promotion is what will help drive this industry as it blasts forward into the lives of all people based on its convenience for travel and necessity to further personal exploration. The bigger the buzz around commercial space transportation, the more the public will desire it, making it cheaper, safer and closer to a reality.
That's what will help inspire people to send email messages, talk to friends over a cup of coffee, and turn on their televisions as average people are rocketed into space.
The benefit the Office of Commercial Space Transportation has in promoting the industry is that so many associated with it outside of the FAA are already helping to build that momentum. Unlike years ago, however, there are new tools to help recruit a new generation of space fans: blogs, Facebook pages, and Twitter.
Some are difficult concepts to grasp for generations of people who grew up receiving telegrams, or dialing a friend with rotary phones. But it's impossible to take even a shallow jump into the world of commercial space transportation without understanding how these new media shape public opinion and build fervor for a lofty goal.
“The idea isn't that new,” said Brooke Owens, a space transportation industry analyst in the commercial space transportation office. “People have always found ways to add a personal touch on information in a timelier manner. What did you do 20 years ago? You picked up the phone. This is just like that, but instead of picking up the phone you're calling hundreds of people at once.”
Owens posts her thoughts and informative updates on a Twitter account that also allows her to follow more than a hundred people in the commercial space and aeronautical industry, keeping her informed of the latest news.
The Google Lunar X-Prize Twitter account allows followers to keep up with
the latest news on the competing teams and information about space travel
and exploration, while also adding personal anecdotes that engages the
In his role as Google liaison and community manager at the Google Lunar X Prize, Mike Fabio uses Twitter, blogs and a Facebook page to keep the competing teams informed, pass along pictures, and reveal personal details about himself. It is an essential tool to help build the momentum for the Charles Lindbergh-inspired $30 million prize awarded to the first team to build a rocket that lands on the moon, releases a vehicle that travels 500 meters and transmits photographs back to Earth.
“For us it's been critical,” Fabio said. “We're trying to reach a younger audience and inspire the next generation of space explorers. It’s not enough to simply advertise or put materials up online. You have to reach younger generations through the media they understand. Using social media has given us the opportunity to directly interact with the public in a way that we couldn’t if we were just putting out advertising.” *
The key component of this new social media has been the ability to put a personality behind it. Finding out about Owens’ love for Red Bull or Fabio’s love of bacon — among other things — allows enthusiasts to identify and engage in conversations with the technology-wise and emerging group of fans, to invest part of their psyche in the development of this new space generation.
Although the commercial space transportation office doesn’t have an official Twitter account or blog yet, it’s easy to imagine that with a new administration that embraces social media, the possibility exists for it to become a reality soon.
“People who participate in social media don’t want to think they are talking to a robot, they want to know they are talking to a person. The only way to make that happen is to put a personal touch on everything,” Fabio said. “It puts a human face onto something that is otherwise seen as just some lofty goal.”
* To put some perspective on how fast the Internet can rally the space community, consider this: In response to a question during his interview with Focus FAA on how many of his followers on Twitter would go to the moon if given the opportunity, Fabio asked the question on Twitter, which linked to a poll on his blog, while simultaneously posting the link on the Facebook page for the Google Lunar X Prize. Within a matter of hours there were more than a hundred responses. More than 90 percent of them said “yes.”
Read part three, Gateway to Space