Friday, June 30, 2006

High-Risk PR 

The National Aeronautical Space Administration (NASA) is betting its most important program on the space shuttle flight this weekend. That's high-risk PR. Should the shuttle fail again, there is little likelihood NASA would attempt to fly the remaining equipment into space. Even if the shuttle works, there is so little trust left in the agency and the shuttle among citizens and influentials that NASA will hardly win public opinion back.

This is quite a come-down for an organization that was once the focus of the world's attention. NASA is an after-thought at a time when we use space routinely. We listen to radio from space, make telephone calls, guide ourselves and watch the weather all from hundreds or thousands of miles from earth. There isn't any surprise left, and few understand the value of a space station, including many scientists.

But NASA plods on.

Working in PR at the agency must be a difficult chore. Sure, one grinds out press releases and issues press passes and does all the things media relations require, but underneath press attention is a deathwatch -- will the shuttle blow up again? There is little one can do to change that attitude, which makes PR futile for the shuttle program.

Here is a wish for the shuttle to fly well and for everyone to come home safe. No one wants to see astronauts die in the cause of science, especially when scientific value is unproven. Perhaps the best PR would be to retire the shuttle program soon and try again with another vehicle.


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