- The Washington Times - Monday, January 1, 2007


Adam Humphries goes to college in the shadow of the Kennedy Space Center, but he can’t name any of the astronauts who recently returned home on Space Shuttle Discovery, and he has no idea why they paid a visit to the International Space Station.

“It’s not something that everybody is really into,” said Mr. Humphries, 18, a student at Brevard Community College, less than 10 miles from the space center. “It’s not interesting anymore. There’s nothing new that everybody can catch onto.”

NASA’s image makers are taking a hard look at how to win over Mr. Humphries’ generation — media-saturated teens and 20-somethings growing up on YouTube and Google and largely indifferent to manned spaceflight.

Surveys show young Americans have high levels of apathy about NASA’s vision of sending astronauts back to the moon by 2017 and eventually to Mars.

“If you’re going to do a space exploration program that lasts 40 years, if you just do the math, those are the guys that are going to carry the tax burden,” said Mary Lynne Dittmar, president of a Houston company that surveyed young people about the space program.

Even though the Dittmar surveys offer a bleak view, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin thinks the new ventures will excite young people more than the current shuttle trips to low-Earth orbit. “If we make it clear that the focus of the United States space program for the foreseeable future will be out there, will be beyond what we do now, I think you won’t have any problem at all reacquiring the interest of young people,” he said.

At an October workshop attended by 80 NASA message spinners, young adults were right up there with Congress as the top two priorities for NASA’s strategic communications efforts.

Tactics encouraged by the workshop included new forms of communication, such as podcasts and YouTube; enlisting support from celebrities, such as actors David Duchovny (“X-Files”) and Patrick Stewart (“Star Trek: The Next Generation”); forming partnerships with youth-oriented media such as MTV or sports events such as the Olympics and NASCAR; and developing brand placement in the movie industry.

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