Stephanie Stockman, Blogging NASA
Stephanie Stockman thinks that she’s got the coolest job in the world, and I’d reckon most space buffs would agree. She’s working at NASA, and she’s blogging as well as twittering it. I first heard of the “Send Your Name to the Moon” project NASA was doing via Twitter, and then it ended up on The Blog Herald as a news story. Now, a million names have been collected and the project, be it PR stunt to secure more NASA funding or not, is certainly a success, and a great way for the public to be part of the space stuff that’s going on. There is still time, by the way, the project have been extended to July 25.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t need more than that to get curious, so I went ahead and did this interview with Stephanie, about blogging NASA, and more. Enjoy.
First of all, tell us a little about yourself and what you do, preferably in layman’s terms…
I work for Science Systems and Applications, Inc (SSAI) as a contractor at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. I have a background in geology and science education. I stared working at Goddard part time when I was a geology graduate student. I was mapping craters and other geologic features on Mars using images from the Viking Orbiters. I was also teaching part time at a community college and had started doing summer workshops for middle school earth science teachers. It was a combination of classroom work, and field trips.
At Goddard, I was supposed to get funding to analyze data from a spacecraft called Mars Observer. NASA lost contact with it right before it was supposed to go into orbit around Mars. Long story short… there was no data to analyze. That was in 1993. I started spending my time doing more on the education side at Goddard, working with a number of small projects part time. By 1997 I was full time with SSAI as the Education Coordinator for the Laboratory for Terrestrial Physics at Goddard.
Since then I have worked with a variety of NASA mission in Earth and space science including Landsat 7 (land remote sensing), EOS Aura (atmospheric chemistry), MESSENGER (mission to Mercury), New Horizons (mission to Pluto) and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). I develop and implement education and outreach programs for these missions. I have a small team and we work with formal educators, museums and planetariums, film makers, youth groups and the general public to engage people in our missions. I have seen two spacecraft launch from Kennedy Space Center – MESSENGER and New Horizons. I have worked in Alaska with high school students who helped us conduct an investigation on earthquake hazards and was part of a team the developed an exhibit on the atmosphere for the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. I believe I have one of the coolest jobs in the world.. where I can be on the cutting edge of scientific discovery and be able to share that with everyone.
You’re blogging your NASA experience. Why is that?
We are always looking for new ways to reach different audiences. I kept hearing about Web 2.0 but really didn’t know what it was all about. I start the Adventures in Earth and Space blog as another way to reach educators. We do newsletters and have websites and conduct workshops, but that’s still a relatively small audience. I thought a blog might catch people’s interest and encourage them to take a closer look at our education materials and our missions.
Around the same time I signed up for YouTube and Twitter. I was really looking at a variety of ways getting the word out. When I first got on twitter I followed mainly teachers and I used Twitter to promote the blog and to get out the word on opportunities for educators or upcoming mission events. My list has greatly expanded since then, as I learned more about how social media works. I am amazed at the public response to “Send your Name to the Moon” and how through twitter it is ending up posted on blogs all over the world.
The “Send your Name to the Moon” project is really cool, and a great PR stunt. What sparked the campaign, and is there a social media plan to get it out there?
Thanks! The idea came from several places. The engineers on the LRO project suggested sending names and I had worked with the New Horizons mission to Pluto, where they sent names on their spacecraft. Our plans to “get it out there” included working with the Planetary Society, coordinating a press release and new webpage with NASA Headquarters as well as utilizing social media. Part to the social media plan was simple.. I started tweeting about “Send Your Name to the Moon” as soon as the press release went out and I set up a “Send Your Name” group on facebook. I was amazed at how many bloggers on twitter picked up the story from twitter and posted the info on their blogs!
Just recently we also set up an LRO twitter site, and I discovered three other facebook groups promoting “Send Your Name to the Moon”.
Note: The “Send Your Name to the Moon” project was just extended to July 25, so there’s still time!
What support from NASA have you gotten for your blogging?
The blog is outside of the NASA Portal (the Official NASA Website). I let the projects I work with know about the blog and have seen interest in blogging grow inside NASA over the last year. Last September I micro-blogged a two day meeting about NASA’s Discovery program using Twitter. I then took the tweets and posted them on my blog, with links and images from websites. I was a panelist on the Discovery Education Panel and I told the audience about the real-time blogging.
In the case of Send your Name to the Moon, my public affairs counterpart on LRO gives much of the credit for huge response to our use of social networking. We had half a million names submitted the the first two weeks.
I’d reckon there is a bunch of regulations on what you can say or do when working with NASA. Could you tell us a little bit about the problems involved, and experienced, with blogging for such an organization?
Because my blog is outside of the NASA website, it does not fall under NASA guidelines. But I am very careful with attributions, and make sure to link back to the NASA websites or the project websites that I blog about. My team and I are the writers and editors and our content is not reviewed by NASA officials before we post.
We do keep in mind suggested rules of the road for NASA employees who have outside blogs:
- Don’t represent that you speak for the agency.
- Unless it is part of your job or officially sanctioned, do it on your own time.
- If you talk about NASA, keep it within your area of expertise.
- Do not speculate about things you don’t know about.
- Do not engage in rumor, innuendo, slander, libel, abusive language, etc.
- Keep in mind that you can be held accountable for what you say.
When I facilitated a NASA blog from one of our scientists in the field, we worked with the Goddard and NASA Headquarters Public Affairs Office to establish guidelines. All of the posts came to me and I sent them to a NASA official for review. They had to be reviewed before posting. It was a quick and painless process. The edits tended to be grammatical corrections and the content was intact.
Within the NASA web domain all content, including video, images and text needs to be reviewed before it goes on the web. In most cases we work directly with Public Affairs or Scientists who are the officials responsible for the particular website. There are regulations related to technology, flight instruments and spacecraft hardware and that content needs to be reviewed before it is release to the public.
Here’s a link to the media policy.
Sounds like NASA isn’t standing in your way, that’s nice, with people getting fired for blogging and everything. Is that something you’ve considered, the risk that your blogging might get you in trouble with your employer?
I believe that my employer trusts me to keep the blog professional. We always link to materials in the public domain and see ourselves more as a clearing house for sound educational materials as well as promoting our NASA missions. In many ways we’ve been a little bit ahead of the curve when it comes to blogging and other types of social media in the NASA EPO (Education and Public Outreach) world. SSAI appreciates that.
Where would you like to take your blogging, and how would you want NASA to embrace the blogosphere?
I would very much like to build an audience for the blog and create more of a conversation with the public. It would be great to have input from on what they would like to know more about, or suggestions on how to engage their peers. I would love to see teachers who use our materials provide their perspective on what works and what doesn’t and share how they implement with their students.
As for NASA, I would like so see more employees blogging, so the public could have a richer understand of what it actually takes to build and launch a spacecraft, and what it takes to design the instruments and get the data back. NASA could also consider moderated commenting to promote exchanges of information with the public.
Someday I would like to see a NASA site with all kinds of NASA multimedia products where the public would be encouraged to visit, download and create their own ways to telling the NASA story.
Finally, for all the space buffs out there, what should they look out for in the future when it comes to NASA projects?
First of all, check out the NASA Launches website. There are over a dozen launches scheduled for the rest of 2008 and 2009, including LRO, GLAST, SDO, Kepler, OCO and Glory as well as the Space Shuttle’s Hubble servicing mission. Right now we have Mars Phoenix digging in the dirt in the north polar regions of Mars and in October MESSENGER will make it’s second flyby of Mercury, imaging a part of the planet never seen before. And in the fall of 2009, the newest Mars rover- Mars Science Laboratory will head to the Martian surface (http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/)
I’d like to thank Stephanie Stockman for taking the time to do this interview. Do check out her blog, it is a fascinating read!