Blog | January 29, 2014, 15:02 PST

NASA's best kept secret is out

By Laura Faye Tenenbaum

NASA's best kept secret is out

The best part of my job as a science communicator at JPL is talking to people—all kinds of people. I often give speeches to audiences large and small about NASA’s mission to study our home planet. I’ve spoken at schools, professional conferences, and business events and in one-on-one conversations with family and friends, or at parties. At some point in the exchange I always ask the same question. It’s like my own personal survey that I’ve been conducting since 2007, the year I started working here. I ask them, “Do you know that NASA studies planet Earth? You know, our planet, from the vantage point of space?”

When I first began carrying out my little unofficial survey, typically only one or two people in a large group knew that NASA does Earth science and has satellites that study our home planet. Sometimes no one knew.

But I continued. I kept asking that same question to all the different groups of people I came in contact with and eventually the answers started to shift. The change happened slowly; sometimes there were only a few "yeses"; maybe one of two hands would go up in a crowd. Every year that went by, and every time I spoke, a few more hands would go up. More heads would nod and more people would say, “Oh yeah, I knew that NASA studies Earth.” I wondered if NASA’s outreach was working.

For a quite a while the results hovered around 5-10 percent of any group who acknowledged that they knew about NASA Earth missions. Then, sometime in 2012, it jumped to about half of the people I talked to. Wow, that was a big deal for me. I shared the news with my team at JPL.

And finally—you guessed it—for the first time, in the fall of 2013, every time I asked that question, the answer was “yes!” More people know that NASA studies Earth from space right now. I think that might be because people care more about our planet than ever before

So, to any of you people of Earth reading this: thank you. Thank you for noticing us at NASA, thank you for joining our mission.

Now, I’ve got another question for you. Did you know that NASA currently has 16 Earth orbiting science satellites and is preparing to launch five more? I wonder how long it will take to get a “yes” answer to that one.


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