NASA’s new plan for talking at us, part II

by guest blogger Ken

Next up is the Message Architecture that has been developed to guide the Office of Strategic Communications in conveying the message of NASA. The VSE lays out its fundamental goal, which is “to advance U.S. scientific, security and economic interests through a robust space exploration program.”

The architecture is shown as a pyramid, with the Core Message at the peak of the pyramid, underlain by Key Messages, which are supported by Mission Specific Messages addressing Exploration, Science, Space Operations, and Aeronautics Research. All of this is supported at the base by the Cross-Cutting Functions of Education, Commercial, International, and Management Excellence.

The next chart then puts this pyramid on a base called The Space Economy. To the side they invert a slightly larger pyramid, wherein the broad base constitutes the General Public, who are aligned with the Core Message of NASA. Narrowing down as a funnel are the specific audiences aligned with the Key Messages, Mission Specific Messages, and Cross-Cutting Functions. At the peak of the inverted pyramid are the Elite, who are aligned with The Space Economy.

I don’t know about you, but I think I want to be one of the Elite, especially given that I’m an economics guy. I can’t wait to see what the Elite are to get out of this new architecture.

The Core Message chosen is “NASA explores for answers that power our future.” Clearly a message constructed by committee, let’s see how they got there.

First up is what NASA does – ‘explores for answers’, in space, in science, and in aeronautics. Why does it matter? Because it ‘powers our future’ and saves lives, improves lives, inspires students, stimulates economy, and protects planet.

What is Future? It is Inspiration + Innovation + Discovery, like the three corners of a triangle (or pyramid). In each instance, NASA powers the element, such as powering Innovation that creates new jobs, new markets, and new technologies. These are then expanded upon for the Core Message to the general public. In the case of Innovation:
-Space exploration has contributed to over a thousand new technologies that improve and save lives every day – advanced breast cancer imaging systems, heart pumps, biohazard detectors, LASIK eye surgery, and water filtration systems are just a few that benefited from NASA’s work.
-Space Exploration will enable us to develop new technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells that may help meet our energy needs on Earth.
-NASA research enables safer, more environmentally friendly, and more efficient air travel…

For the elevator speech, this is digested down into:
NASA exploration powers innovation that creates new jobs, new markets, and new technologies that improve and save lives everyday in every community. Quieter and cleaner aircraft, advanced breast cancer screening, heart pumps, biohazard detectors, and LASIK eye surgery all benefited from NASA’s work.

Why Explore? Because exploration powers inspiration, innovation, and discovery. Which as we already know from prior slides equals Future.

Finally we get to my area of interest – The Space Economy (a/k/a The Elites). Slide 47 notes the new competitive context for The Space Economy.
-New competitive landscape is Global Economy
-Innovation and competitiveness are the keys to economic growth and improved quality of life.
-NASA uniquely positioned to be a primary driver of innovation and competitiveness.
“The Space Economy provides a platform for expressing NASA’s role and relevance in this new competitive landscape to key target audiences.”

This is actually an area where I can see NASA doing a lot of good. My personal preference would be to see NASA taking the lead in establishing things like universal interfaces that everyone could design to so that we could have much more inter-operability of on-orbit elements provided by global competitors. This would allow a Universal Docking Node to mate up with European cargo ATVs, Bigelow Nautiluses, Russian Paroms, SpaceX Dragons, Chinese station elements, and whatever else folks decide to come up with.

I also think that NASA needs to do a better job communicating the technology they do have that’s gathering dust in the vaults. This might be through a project working with trade groups from a variety of industries to search through the files for technologies of interest to that trade group. This could then be published as a handbook to be distributed to members of each particular trade group.

Part of the problem is that NASA has subcontracted out a lot of the Technology Transfer functions, such as the distribution of information. To minimize expenses on the contract the best thing to do is staff sufficiently to handle incoming requests, but minimize the expensive outreach function. That’s just a rational economic response in a shareholder-driven economy. It also means that unless someone happens to stumble upon a particular technology they are unlikely to find out about it.

So what is The Space Economy? It is defined as “The full range of activities and the use of resources that create and provide value and benefits to human beings in the course of exploring, understanding and utilizing space”, with examples being:
Infrastructure – Space ops, suppliers, contractors
Applications – GPS, weather, climate, defense, imagery
Transactions – Finance, medicine, communications
Commerce – Tourism, services, logistical support

I guess that suppliers and contractors could be considered infrastructure, but I think I’d rather classify them as Partners. I see Infrastructure as thinks like Launch facilities, Transport vehicles, On-Orbit assets, and Communications. For Applications I’d also add things like Materials sciences and Space weather. The overall Space Economy certainly includes a lot more than what is listed.

So how does NASA establish ‘thought leadership’ on the theme of The Space Economy?
-Develop economic models for space leadership
-Develop economic indicators and impact analysis to bring specificity to The Space Economy theme
-These can lead to a de facto rebranding of NASA in terms of releveance and benefits for our target audiences.

Which goes back to my lament of the prior post that a Lack of Current Context is what underlies a lot of NASA’s current perception problems. One economic model for space leadership would be for NASA to decide to use existing U.S. lauchers for their transport needs. The CE&R reports showed that it was possible, and what could be better for the economy than having industry crank up the production lines and put people to work building Atlas 5 and Delta IV launch vehicles, as well as crew and cargo vehicles to put on top?

Interestingly, when I went to put in the link to the CE&R reports, my bookmark was broken. I guess the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate doesn’t want you seeing them and comparing them ESAS. Luckily I found a link elsewhere.

Last up is the Outreach Strategies. This is where the fun begins, as NASA is also headed into the one-year run-up to their 50th anniversary on October 1st, 2008. This offers lots of opportunities to get the new strategic message out. This includes a website overhaul, a Gala event in D.C. in Oct. 2008, Lectures series, Future Forums, commemorative goodies, and so forth.

I’m sort of interested in the Future Forums. These would be day-long conferences in key cities to discuss the role of innovation (technology R&D) in promoting/sustaining economic development. It looks like I would be excluded, as I’m not part of the target audience of local entrepreneurial, technology and academic communities as well as elected officials. I’m just a poor old banker. They would also conduct school visits, media interviews, editorial boards and meetings with elected officials. I am certainly in favor of NASA conducting many, many more school visits, and not just in ‘target’ cities likes St. Louis or Albany.

The list of existing Strategic Alliances on slide 57 is particularly interesting – Google, Yahoo, Honeywell, Office Max, World Book, Berazy, Internet Archive, Disney, and Discovery. That’s quite a line-up. Hopefully we’ll be seeing the NASA name a lot more over the next year or so.

There’s other stuff as well, like the Web 2.0 redesign, and metrics for gauging response to the messages. Overall, I have to admit that I’m a bit underwhelmed. The message seems a bit too ‘constructed’, and the use of the word ‘powers’ makes me think of Solar power satellites. Which, in all honesty I wouldn’t mind NASA doing a little bit of R&D in, perhaps in conjunction with the DoD.

Then, of course, NASA has to go shoot itself in the foot with the closure of the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts, or NIAC, which was also noted over on Space Politics. It seems to me that if the message one is trying to get across is developing innovation, why shut down things like your Institute for Advanced Concepts? Well, because we don’t need any advanced concepts until ESAS is done. Then we can start thinking about what to do with this National Space Transportation Architecture. Even though launching spacecraft is not really what the public sees NASA doing. They do like the technology, though, even if the ‘spinoff’ has to be, shall we say, stretched a little. As noted over on NASAWatch.

So how successful is this new marketing concept likely to be? I can’t really say. I only got a B- in international marketing, so I’m not terribly good at modern marketing philosophy. I do know that the Core Message doesn’t really speak to me, but as noted I see myself more along the lines of The Elite, tied in to the space economy. My vision of The Space Economy,though, has little involvement on the part of NASA, as everyone else will have forged ahead using the tools at hand while NASA wrestles with their super-duper ESAS tool. International space tourism is unlikely to have much interaction with NASA, except to the extent necessary, since that’ll be going through those crafty capitalists, the Russians. Small, entrpreneurial efforts are springing up around the support services, like Paragon, NASTAR, and Wyle Labs. Orbital Outfitters is looking to do the space suits. There’s all kinds of activity going on, much of it in response to NASA’s ongoing lack of providing leadership in the space field. So it’s difficult for me to see NASA being the Leader going forward in unlocking space for the U.S.

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3 Responses to NASA’s new plan for talking at us, part II

  1. john hare says:

    Until your last two sentences I thought we were in serious disagreement. I don’t want to wait on NASA or fight it, just treat it as a fellow traveler when we are on the same road.

  2. Ed says:

    “My personal preference would be to see NASA taking the lead in establishing things like universal interfaces that everyone could design to so that we could have much more inter-operability of on-orbit elements provided by global competitors. This would allow a Universal Docking Node to mate up with European cargo ATVs, Bigelow Nautiluses, Russian Paroms, SpaceX Dragons, Chinese station elements, and whatever else folks decide to come up with.”

    Yes! Exactly! That is precisely what I was talking about here, decoupling the mission from the implementation. If NASA does such things as publishing the specs for a universal docking interface among other things, then they will be doing exactly what IBM did when they published their PC architecture, allowing any company to participate with them. That’s real leadership.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I believe a universal androgynous docking standard is a must.
    I feel the ISS CBM and the LIDS should be the first two standards for a docking system.
    Also RMS grapple connections need a standard as well so an Orion,Skylon,Dragon, K1 or even some next gen RLV etc that happens to have an RMS can make use of the grapple points.

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