Swings returned to the theme of inspiration and asked if there is still room for books in inspiring and educating young people. Kaufman said that he certainly thinks there is a future for books, but it is difficult to tell what will inspire people. “We are in the business of planting seeds” to see what will sprout.
Vernikos brought up the second space flight of John Glenn when he was 77 and how people thought it was a gimmick, but in fact very good life sciences data resulted from it. She agreed with Benford’s advocacy of a centrifuge but is convinced that the United States will not be the one to build it. Benford said he asked Daniel Goldin why a centrifuge was not built while he was NASA administrator. Benford said Goldin replied that Congress would look adversely at it because it would indicate that there really was an intention to do an interplanetary mission. Benford said that NASA “is a jobs program, but you don’t want it to be too large.” He continued on to say that Goldin worried that NASA would begin to be whittled away by 2020 because it would not have done anything interesting, and Benford believes that is coming true.
Scheufele said that the discussion so far was underselling Web 2.0, which he described as dialoging everything that happens online. People will be able to take short sections of books from their Kindles and put them on Facebook or Twitter and share it with everyone immediately. It will allow dialoguing across all of the new media tools. It lets someone build a “buzz” for whatever the message is. Even today many people will never read a book, but the messages from books reach them through other forms of communications. Web 2.0 and whatever comes after will be the key tools for this in the future.
Billings talked about non-profit media like ProPublica that focus on in-depth investigative reporting that no longer can be done in mainstream media because of budget cuts. There is no such place yet for science and technology topics, however, and she asked whether that would be worthwhile.
An audience member asked how to engage the public in the discussion of the future of human space exploration and keep it focused, rather than becoming an unconstrained national discussion.
Scheufele said that messaging is important, and one has to create an “I want to know more” reaction. Good research can tell each individual what words and messaging techniques to use, but that research has not been done for the space program “to build excitement and the eagerness to know more.”
Kaufman says that in Japan observatories are in public parks and are more open than here. He asked the director of one of them what people were interested in, and the director said the answer was overwhelming—where does the universe end and when will we find life. So in terms of the message of what NASA could be doing, we should tell the public we are on huge multi-decade endeavor to find life elsewhere, and that is a message people will respond to, he said.
Billings commented that she was involved in setting up town hall meetings for two different efforts in past years, but the shortcoming was that they came to an end. There was no sustained communication with that community of people.
Vernikos said that she sees a continuum among the Grand Questions, but somehow the universe and the search for life elsewhere has become a story that hangs together, while the story of humans in space does not. Efforts need to be taken to tie together space science and human exploration, to engage the public’s involvement through virtual interaction with robots, progressing through to human journeys, so that when a human goes everybody will be there with him.
Kaufman asked to make one last comment that he meant to make earlier and said that NASA public affairs “is far and away the best one I’ve dealt with. They answer the phone, they put people on the phone to give me answers, and they proactively give out information.” There may be problems with how the information is conveyed, but he thinks NASA deserves a “shout out” because it is doing a better job than most agencies.