You’re in a shuttle orbiting Earth at 17,000 miles an hour. With the sun appearing every 90 minutes or so, and zero gravity to speak of, you try to sleep with a mask over your eyes while being tethered to a stationary object. When you wake it’s to the strains of something ironic and often schmaltzy, perhaps Tom Petty’s Learning to Fly or Frank Sinatra’s Fly Me to the Moon. Your location in space and your failed attempt at slumber notwithstanding, today you’ll speak with grade school students from a small town in Iowa, be the subject of an IMAX film, and repair a 25,000 pound telescope worth billions in taxpayer dollars.
All those years of academic dedication, all those accusations of being a pocket-protector wearing geek, all the risk…totally worth it.
Because let’s face it. You’ve become the epitome of achievement.
Today you’re a total rock star.
And your fans know it.
NASA’s personality is based on the marriage between exploration and the celebration of human achievement.
Achievement serves as the currency of the NASA economy. When you are part of a team that launches a billion dollar piece of equipment into space, you don’t have the luxury of slacking off. The mission and your part in it is patently clear.
This is not just the right stuff. This is incredibly serious stuff.
But NASA has wake-up music. Playful morning music. And it has always been that way.
Even in the Apollo-era, NASA crewmembers were not waxen, dispassionate, mission-driven astrophysicists. On the contrary, as Wally, Neil, and Buzz were eminently real and personable. They were often photographed smiling, cajoling each other before getting into a tiny – super tiny – capsule, fixed atop a giant exploding tube.
Sending a manned rocket into space is complex. So complex that the “it’s not rocket science” colloquialism does not apply. You simply don’t get this many expensive, moving parts to launch – complete with happy morning music – without a culture of achievement. NASA’s personality is not permeated by top-down dictates, but on it’s highly professional structure that understands the relationship between individual achievement and group success.
NASA’s reward ecosystem involves the formal recognition of those who support the agency, and NASA has no shortage of enthusiastic fans. So to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Mission, they gave back to their supporters. At NASA headquarters in Washington DC they hosted a “Tweetup,” complete with astronauts recently returned from the STS-125 mission to service the Hubble telescope. With a participation cap of 150 pre-registered guests, only those closely following NASA (or their lucky friends) would get a reserved seat.
When we signed up for the Tweetup we envisioned a traditionally hosted, cocktail party-style event, where we’d mingle with other attendees and if lucky, steal a brief moment to shake the hand of a featured guest. Instead, NASA’s event resembled a 2.0 styled press conference. At first we were confused, thinking perhaps NASA didn’t “get it.” Pre-registration? Limiting the number of attendees? No food?! What was with all this formal stuff?
It soon became apparent that this was the perfect Tweetup for NASA culture. The audience was afforded ample interaction with the panel of astronauts, who were affable as well as informative. The Tweetup was exactly what NASA and its fans wanted it to be. NASA managed to take the Tweetup and approach it from its culture of friendly professionalism. This yielded mutual rewards. NASA’s fans rewarded the achievements of the astronauts by knowing in detail what the STS-125 entailed, while the astronauts and NASA returned the favor by rewarding the loyalty of their fans through conversation and validation.