The Message is the Mission
This Second View is by Space Foundation Vice President - Washington Operations Brendan W. Curry.
On May 15, 2013, the most recent International Space Station (ISS) crew safely returned home. The men who returned are American Tom Marshburn, Russian Roman Romanenko and Canadian Chris Hadfield. Hadfield has the distinction of being the first commander of the ISS who is neither American nor Russian. What more people down here on earth may recall, however, is how Hadfield tirelessly worked social media platforms to reach out to the public and communicate the wonder and excitement of human space flight.
Like all crew members of ISS, Hadfield performed countless experiments, maintained ISS systems and worked with his fellow crew members on troubleshooting technical issues. What set Hadfield apart from other ISS astronauts was his use of Twitter (over 800,000 followers) and YouTube to conduct experiments school children asked him to conduct in his free time and sing and play his guitar as well as answer questions in real time about life aboard ISS. While he is certainly not the first to do some of these activities from space, it was the manner and approachability Hadfield exhibited that captured the interest of people of all ages. He made it a richly immersive and interactive experience.
Hadfield knew this would be his longest and final stay in space. He clearly wanted to make the most of it. He knew he would have an unprecedented opportunity and wanted to maximize it. By any measure, he certainly did, and those who follow him on ISS have a tough act to follow. That said, we cannot let this duty to engage the general public be left to only those who happen to be in space at the moment.
"To advance space-related endeavors to inspire, enable and propel humanity," is our mission at Space Foundation. A substantial part of this effort is to reach out and connect students, teachers and parents to the excitement of space and the value of pursuing careers in the space industry. You can learn more about what our education team does here: www.spacefoundation.org/education.
As I have written and said before, those of us lucky enough to work in space do it because we are passionate about our professional calling, but also because we have a firm belief in humanity's place in the heavens. We all have a duty to do what we can to engage those in our lives who are not familiar with space, or maybe even hostile to space activities.
You can do this by using Facebook or other social media with friends and family to showcase what amazing things go on in our industry almost on a weekly basis. You can volunteer to talk to school groups. You can showcase to the children in your family space-related educational programs on TV. You can support space-related 501(c)3 organizations like the Space Foundation at www.spacefoundation.org/donate.
I hope all of us in this industry can take a lesson from Hadfield and that lesson propels us all to do a better job in reaching beyond ourselves and engage those outside our community about the wonder and excitement of space.
See more about Chris Hadfield's lessons from space here.
Brendan Curry is Space Foundation Vice President - Washington Operations and leads the Space Foundation's government affairs efforts in Washington, D.C. Previously, Curry was the senior legislative assistant to Congressman Dave Weldon, M.D. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Scranton and Juris Doctor of Law degree from Pennsylvania State University, Dickinson School of Law.