Bones: "Darnit Jim, it’s only an inch deep!"

Howdy all, Ken here.

I hope everyone is still completely stuffed from a bountiful Thanksgiving. We had a gorgeous day here in north Texas, and I had a good time rough-housing with my nephews in their front yard.

I also picked up the newest copy of Ad Astra from the National Space Society. Since I’m sure many of the folks who hang out here in the Selenian Boondocks have no idea who I am, or why Jon has invited me to guest post on his blog, let me give a little background.

In the context of this story I am the VP of the North Texas chapter of NSS. I have organized and led a lot of chapter projects that have been very successful for us (World Space Week, merit badge clinic), and we’re slowly gaining respect in the community for our outreach, education and awareness-building work. Through our projects we’ve talked to thousands of people in the D/FW metroplex about space over the last couple of years. We’re so good that we scored the 2007 International Space Development Conference to be hosted here in D/FW. I am serving as the lead co-chair in the organization of that conference, and have a phenomenal team of volunteers preparing what is going to be a huge conference. You can see what kind of fun we have in our chapter gallery

So I am easily labeled as a space activist, someone who is working to help make space and its development a priority for this country. This makes me particularly disheartened by the results of the 2005 NSS Membership Survey which were included in the latest Ad Astra.

Some 1,900 members responded. I don’t know how many of the total membership that represents as NSS is still working through some database recovery issues (like sending my Ad Astra to an old address), but it’s a fair amount and a sample size that is almost twice the size of your average Gallup Poll sample size.

I was particularly interested by the membership results, which served up a big dollop of indigestion on top of my Thanksgiving repast. 1,787 persons responded to the Chapters question, which asked “Are you currently affiliated with a local chapter?”

7% (125) responded that yes, they were, while a whopping 93% (1,662) said that no they weren’t. Of that seven percent who were affiliated with a chapter, a full 65% (81) could not recall the last chapter event they had attended (making their actual chapter affiliation, with separate dues, suspect). 35% (44) had been involved in something over the last year, and only 23% (29) in the last month. So of the overall respondents, only 1.6% had been involved in a chapter activity in the last month and 2.5% in the last year (which includes last month).

Now for the really disappointing part. Of the 93% of respondents who were not affiliated with a chapter, 78% (1,296) said they didn’t want to be contacted about chapters either. That’s 72.5% of NSS members who don’t want to have anything to do with chapters.

This is consistent with the next question on space activism, which asks “Within the past year, have you made any efforts to promote space in your area?”, to which 71% of the 1,715 respondents answered no. 29% (497) responded yes. Given the rather small number known to be active, this means there are a lot of what I would call freelancers, folks working outside the organizational benefits of NSS. That number, though, is consistent with the number of respondents to the Chapters question who were either involved or willing to be contacted about being involved.

So as someone who is trying to build my NSS-NT chapter volunteer team to evangelize space in North Texas and develop a great conference in 2007, I have to figure out how to reach out to the freelancers without angering the nearly three-quarters of NSS members who just don’t want to hear from me.

This is further reinforced by the next question on Ad Astra, wherein only 100 (6%) of 1,673 respondents said they wanted more chapter and NSS images and information. Compare this with 37% who wanted more space news and 28% who want more space pictures in the magazine.

That’s probably why the article I had published over at Ad Astra Online, “Reaching Out to Texas Teens”, has been dropped from the article list, and the follow-up story I did on our Boy Scout Space Exploration merit badge project, “Reaching Out to Texas Scouts”, never saw the light of day. People aren’t interested in the actual community-level work of making our country, and not just NASA, a space-faring nation. And this is within the space community.

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5 Responses to Bones: "Darnit Jim, it’s only an inch deep!"

  1. Mike Täht says:

    The NSS never really had the kind of grassroots support and enthusiasm that the L5 society did.

    I don’t know what to do about it. I give 10 year olds the same works of Heinlein that inspired me as a kid, and they’d rather play video games.

    Perhaps it’s because space is no longer perceived as a possible workplace, or a place where individual effort matters.

  2. Michael Mealling says:

    Darnit?

  3. murphydyne says:

    Well Mr. Mealling, Jon had already spanked me for posting on a Sunday, so I didn’t want to muck up the family-friendly nature of the Selenian Boondocks.

    Probem was, it’s much less recognizable as a Star Trek (TM, C, RM, whatever) quote without it. So I had to have something in there, and when I pasted it in with the double-m I started getting weird subconcious vibes. The solution was to sanitize it a bit while leaving it recognizable, so darnit it was.

    As for Mr. Taht’s comment, I think the idea of space as a possible workplace, and not just mission destination for NASAnauts) is a key one. It certainly seemed to be the case during the HOBY Leadership event I did that was the genesis of the first article for Ad Astra Online.

    It’s an important message to convey to the general tax-paying public – that space is a place where Americans can work and where American industry can create the products and services that will make for a better world tomorrow. The people that are needed to carry this message, those who already have a strong interest in and knowledge of space (else why would they spend the money to join up?), apparently couldn’t be bothered.

    This leaves a whole lot of lonely voices crying in the wilderness (which de facto makes them crackpots, not visionaries, as far as most folks are concerned). The message is diffuse and often in conflict with itself. Teachers can only do so much teaching between exam preparations, and most, if not all of their material comes from NASA.

    Only so much can be done on the web. You have to go out and see that moment in their eyes when the neurons snap together in just the right way and they begin to understand just how important this can be.

    Too often folks in the space field talk at or to those that question them about space, instead of talking -with- them. When you talk with them you also learn a great deal, and then both parties are better for the experience.

  4. Dan Schrimpsher says:

    Ken, you want to be really depressed, read my reply to this:) No to go find out if we have a local chapter here in Huntsville.

  5. Dan Schrimpsher says:

    If you are curious, I got a response from one of the executive members of the local NSS chapter, HAL5. I posted the text of the message at Why I should be a member of the local NSS chapter
    By the way, Jon, your word verification is swearing at me. Shame, shame 🙂

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