Paying a social call to NASA

By Adam Earnheardt

As our crew of 50-some social media influencers boarded the shuttle (i.e., bus) after the tour of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope mission control, one team member quipped, “Imagine the selfie you could take with that thing.”

He was, of course, referring to the awesome power of Hubble, and the incredible images the telescope has captured since its launch aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1990.

“Maybe we can. Let’s ask,” I replied with a smile, knowing full well that wasn’t a possibility (after all, Hubble’s telescope is pointing the other way, away from Earth).

I know what some of you are thinking. Why would they want a bunch of social media people like me nosing around behind the 18-foot barricades of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center?

NASA’s social media team has been doing events like this for years: inviting small groups of social media users to experience, firsthand, some of the amazing work NASA is producing.

The hope is that some influencers will walk away and, maybe, do something cool with the experience.

Of course, it’s easier to do something “cool” with the experience when the experience itself is cool.

The entire event focused on space lasers. More specifically, several NASA mission experts showed us how they use, or plan to use, lasers to measure Earth, track satellites and communicate.

Aside from our visit to Hubble’s mission control, we visited with NASA’s ICESat2SFlbengineers (launching in 2018 to measure Earth’s ice), met with GEDI mission directors (launching in 2019 to measure Earth’s terrain), and watched as NASA was preparing future robotic satellite servicing missions.

At sunset, we visited Goddard’s laser ranging facility and watched as NASA tracked satellites in orbit around Earth.

You might be curious where the whole “social media” thing fits in. I was surprised to learn the event was not just about attracting an audience on Facebook and Twitter.

It was more “social” than “social media.” And that’s a good thing.

Jason Townsend, NASA’s social media manager, suggested that these events offer a bit of give and take. NASA gives visitors a glimpse of what’s happening in terms of missions and experiments. Those who attend a NASA social get to take that information and, in Townsend’s words, “do their own thing with it.”

“A comic book illustrator came through one of our NASA social events and ended up making a 30-page comic book on what it’s like to visit NASA,” Townsend said.

For some, attending a NASA social event might lead to a job offer – at NASA. “Others decide they want to work in social media and come to work for [NASA],” Townsend added. “We have a dozen or so people who are alumni of our NASA social program.”

Want to hear more about my visit? Watch 21 WFMJ-TV’s morning show Friday at 6 a.m. or visit my blog at

Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn. Have a column idea? Email him at

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