I was invited to attend a NASA Budget Briefing as part of a recent NASATweetup held at NASA Headquarters on 13 February 2012. I’ve been to other NASA Tweetups, but this was a new type of event for both attendees and NASA. First, the topic was more administrative than any others. No fire or sound waves. No Florida hair. Heck, one of the people I hadn’t seen for a while said "You look different". My response: "You’ve never seen me in work clothes".
The first two NASATweetups I attended were launches (STS-134 and Juno). Both of these had 150 attendees with a two-day program of speakers and presentations, then a launch. This meeting was part of an existing event, a media briefing about the 2013 Fiscal Year Budget. Yes, this was PowerPoint and spreadsheets, for the most part. However, the content of those presentation materials was going to show us which programs were moving forward and which ones were going to have to change or be dropped completely. Being a data professional, this was my type of event. I wanted the data and the budget wasn’t going to be released until one hour before the event. That’s a fast read of a set of slides and some large documents. I went for the slides.
The second thing that was different: this tweetup was much smaller. The original registration limited attendees to 20 and I think we had just under that. The most important difference was that we were going to be part of the media, able to ask questions along with the traditional media. This is a first for NASATweetups and I’m not sure how many other US Federal media briefings have involved a mix of traditional and social media. I was excited that I could be part of this new approach to media, especially because it brought together two of my passions: space and social media. More on that mixing later.
The first thing that was different from other NASATweeups: We received no badges or swag bags…because traditional media don’t get those, either. If I do one of these again, I’ll bring my own badge or credentials.
In the opening statements, Bob Jacobs announced this new era and took our photo, which was posted to Twitter.
You can see him pause to take the photo in the video below. I think that was our second sign that this press briefing was going to be different.
This year, we are trying something a little different. As well as traditional media representatives, for the first time we have invited members of the social media community to be a part of today’s presentation, and we will be taking questions via Twitter using the #AskNASA. So we thank everyone for joining us for today’s presentation.
We will go over some of the ground rules first, but well, wait a second. I want to make sure I capture this. If we are going to be social media, I need to do it from here too.
MR. JACOBS: Okay. Got a Photo.
I’ve listed some links in the related section below of the analyses of the impact of the new budget, but the ones that were of note to me:
- STEM education and outreach was cut from $138 million dollars in 2012 to $100 million. That’s a significant cutback to this program, but only a tiny portion of a tiny portion of the overall US Federal budget. This is going to make it more difficult to find and retain qualified people in the future. I’m also guessing that other organizations are having their STEM budgets cut as well.
- ExoMars program will need to be re-programmed, meaning that we will not be collaborating with the European agencies for these Mars exploration programs . This has left ESA scrambling to find other countries to help with these programs, most likely Roscosmos.
DataChick’s Question on Open Government and Open Data
I was fortunate to be called upon to ask a question:
Let’s take one more question over here, and then we will take a couple from Twitter, and then we will go to the field centers.
QUESTIONER (Karen Lopez): Hi. I am Karen Lopez. I am Datachick on Twitter.
One of the ways that the public, the rest of us, can benefit from all these NASA missions is via access to open government transparency and open data initiatives, like at data.NASA.gov. Have budget pressures made any changes to those programs? Will they continue to expand?
ADMINISTRATOR BOLDEN: Do you want to take that?
DR. ROBINSON: Okay. So NASA couple things. One is you know the administration has a very vigorous Open Government Initiative, and NASA is a participant in that. And it recently went international, and we have an international event coming up in April April, thank you April, where we will be gathering together folks from around the world, virtually, of course, to work on things. So we have very vigorous programs.
And a large part of what we do in Open Government is, as you said, we leverage off of things that the programs do already, make their data available, make it accessible, Open Government a little bit more just to point them in the right direction. So it’s really Open Government is really a philosophy at NASA that we try to put as much as we can out into the public in the most understandable way possible, and so we are doing that.
The Open Government Initiative has taken us in a few different directions, and we will continue that. We plan to keep going forward, but it is always when you talk about Open Government, it is really it is hard to predict, because we are going to do so much, right? We are going to have so much data coming in and all of that. NASA is a very exciting place to work, because now we have apps on our iPhones from NASA and a whole bunch of things, so we are already out there in terms of Open Government
QUESTIONER (Karen Lopez): [Speaking off mic.]
[Here I followed up with "So no immediate changes?" ]
DR. ROBINSON: Well, not in the near future. We’re going to assess I am looking at my partner here. I am the senior accountable official for Open Government, and then our CIO over there
ADMINISTRATOR BOLDEN: We are both looking at the CIO.
DR. ROBINSON: Yeah, we are both looking at the CIO, and it is her folks mainly who do it. And so I think we are really going to assess up to this international event, how to keep those kind of things going or not.
And with that question I was able to add my third passion: Data. As in, Love Your Data. The terms data or information was mentioned 21 times during the briefing, twice in NASA Administrator Charles Bolden’s opening remarks.
This budget supports more than 80 science missions, 56 currently in operation and 28 now under development, that cover the vital data we need to understand our own planet, diverse missions reaching farther into our solar system, and the next generation of observatories peering beyond the reaches of our neighborhood to other galaxies and their solar systems and undiscovered phenomena
The missions currently at Mars the Mars Science Laboratory, on its way, and MAVEN, well into development will provide many years of data to help us understand the Red Planet and our needs in future years to meet the President’s challenge to send humans to Mars in the mid 2030s.
No, we weren’t. In some of the descriptions of the event, including the announcement of the Tweetup, we were described as "Twitter Fans" of NASA. One of the issues I can see with trying to mix fans and journalism is that…they shouldn’t mix. Sure, it’s not unheard of for a journalist to be excited about interviewing someone, but in theory they aren’t supposed to be fans. I don’t think my role there was as a citizen journalist. However, I think we Tweetup attendees did a good job not gushing all over Bolden and Robinson in our questions. In fact, I was impressed by the lack of fanboi attitude in any of our questions.
You can really tell the difference when you see this still taken from This Week at NASA coverage:
Three laptops, all running Tweetdeck in that photo. That’s me tweeting in the upper center of the frame. Most of the traditional media attendees brought digital recorders and paper. So while they were taking notes, we were sharing live. That’s not necessarily better. It’s different. Mixing social media and traditional media can work. They don’t have to compete.
Some of the traditional media people from major media organizations even retweeted my question and told me afterwards that our questions were good. I think that means the new era of mixing traditional and social media may continue. I look forward to future NASATweetups for these types of events.
In talking to people after the event I think this experiment was a success. The Tweetup crowd came up with some great questions, as did the Twitterverse via the #AskNASA hashtag. I am happy that I was selected to be part of this new era of social media, NASA…and Data.
NASATweetup Video from C-SPAN
The entire event was just over an hour. You can watch the whole thing via this C-SPAN feed.
Or if you prefer the shorter briefing of the briefing, you can watch the one minute version on TW@N at the very beginning of this video.