As I was mindlessly perusing my facebook feed this week, I came across a bikini-clad Kate Upton floating weightless in microgravity. She was doing a photoshoot for Sports Illustrated and she looked marvelous, as always. [Insert recycled joke about body “literally defying gravity” - which was likely in the pitch to do the shoot in the first place]. A tip of the hat to ZeroG, because they are getting some great publicity out of this.
While this didn't actually take place in outer space, it’s definitely space-related, and it is part of the increasing trend of space and science news showing up from nontraditional outlets. I'm talking about everything from Bill Nye debating creationists and climate change-deniers, to Richard Branson’s suborbital flights for rich people, to the educational yet pithy posts from the "I Fucking Love Science" facebook page.
These are things that my friends who aren't trained as scientists or engineers are posting about. These are things that regular people find interesting and worth sharing.
But this hasn't always been the case. What changed? Why are science topics no longer something that only PhDs actively participate in and find intrinsically interesting? I believe there are three main reasons why this has happened.
1. Technical Information Has Been Democratized
The first reason is due to the widespread nature of and ease of access to information. Everything is on the internet and most people (in the U.S.) now have many ways to access the internet. Scientific information is no longer kept solely in periodic journals that only scientists and engineers can understand (oh, hey Wikipedia!). This means that anyone can fact-check the nonsense you see online as long as you know how to be a critical reader.
2. Scientists and Engineers Learned How to Talk to Humans
The second reason is that we are getting better at communicating science and technology to laypeople. Being good at math and science has traditionally been a tradeoff for being able to talk to people. But today, platforms like the TED talk series and social media have forced scientists and techies to communicate their main points through attention-grabbing stories or in 140 characters or less. This trend of bite-sized science has made technical information easily digestible and shareable.
3. Billionaires Started Pouring Money Into Their Childhood Dreams
The third reason science and space is becoming more mainstream is because billionaire entrepreneurs are now spending their fortune on space exploration. Previously, space exploration was so cost-prohibitive that only large governments could afford to do it. But now, we have the moguls behind PayPal & Tesla, Amazon, the Virgin empire, Google, and even the Budget Suites of America investing in space. This is a huge deal. Before, NASA had the keys to the golden gates of space and got to decide which lucky few were allowed in. Today, Angelina Jolie, Katy Perry, Ashton Kutcher, and Justin Bieber have all bought tickets to suborbital space. Kate Upton is doing bikini shoots in microgravity. Over 1,000 people have signed up for a 1-way trip to Mars, and we have Space Hotels and asteroid mining on the horizon. Things are seriously getting ridiculous in the world of space right now.
These three factors have given us (1) interesting/fun content to share, (2) creative platforms to share it on, and (3) relatively cheap and easy ways to access these platforms. Voilà! Science and space become accessible and fun again!
So, as we are producing our outer space show – this is our challenge. We want our show to be fun, educational, and easy to understand. In fact, we want it to be more than just a show. We’re working to get it into classrooms and we've created a social marketing plan for each episode (if you have suggestions/ideas, be sure to let me know!). Space isn't just for kids or astronauts. It can be exciting and even – dare I say – understandable. We just need to tell the story in creative, digestible and shareable ways.