Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Where's My Space Entertainment?

In conversation among space geeks, it's easy to cover basic current events and generally everyone knows what you're talking about. Bring that conversation to a general room of people, and the question marks above the heads start to look like something out of the SIMS.

There is a severe disconnect between what the space industry does on a regular basis and what the general public is aware of. One would think that the most recent Hubble mission by NASA and the subsequent ferry boat ride Atlantis just completed from California to Florida would spark a fire of interest in the space program and what it does. Sadly, even if this happens, I bet it's fleeting.

One of the primary problems the space industry has is a severe lack of PR. They have no idea how to promote themselves on a regular basis to the general public. People just don't realize what space does for them.

When is the last time we had a good Sci-Fi TV show that was space based on one of the major networks? If we want to boost the interest in math, science and technology among young people, then we need some kind of PR push (commercials, TV shows, web based programming) that is entertaining.

Whether you like it or not, most people would rather be entertained than informed, if you give them a choice of the two. What you must do is make entertainment informative. I cannot fathom why NASA, as the American Space Industry figurehead, has not tried to work with Hollywood to develop a TV series that showcases real technology and real future technologies for the sole purpose of driving people to the space, science and technology sector.

Imagine a kick ass space show, where you have "infomercials" trailing the breaks, or preceding the continuation of the next show segment, that discuss what's going on in the show and how it equates to real life research and development. A link, bridging fiction with reality, such that people watching would see what's going on in the real world, how it will affect them, and how it's coming along. Yes, the show would be about the characters and their adventures, not the gadgets and technology used, but the infomercials would be used to bring attention to certain aspects of the technology in the show. One of these could go like this:

"In the last segment, Johnathan Rey used a micro-particle accelerator aboard the Linstrom to stop the engine reactor from going critical. Currently we don't have micro-particle accelerators, but here at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research located on the Franco-Swiss border, scientists are accelerating particles to extreme velocities, hoping to break apart atoms and see what's inside. Dr. Hugebrain explains..."

This infomercial would also provide information on what disciplines are involved, what education is needed, and would promote a dedicated website for those interested to go to and learn more. Not some boring website either, but something interactive and entertaining as well. The show would be entertaining, but the substance would be real and hopefully drive people to pursue a career that helps to make what they see in the show a reality. And the whole thing would be just 30 seconds, enough to tease and move on.

Space pops up on the radar only a few times a year, like when we have a Shuttle Mission, another country does something space related, or something bad happens related to space. The rest of the time people have no idea what's going on, what new developments are coming, and what those developments can do for them. It's time to change that.

If we're ever going to make serious efforts to grow the fields of space, science and technology, we must find a way to make it entertaining and exciting. Old dudes in lab coats sitting in a sterile room doing advanced math calculations sucks and is boring, no matter the fact that that is part of the process. Kids don't want that! People aren't entertained by that. A show rooted in real physics, using plausible technologies, but with an exciting story line with fun and interesting characters provides the kind of format to not only entertain, but educate and hopefully drive young people to become scientists and engineers of tomorrow.


Thomas Fledrich said...

What I miss in today's SF is that most of it is really not based on plausible technology. Warp drives are cool and one day they might even be real, but there is hardly any visible link between todays tech and that future.

But without this link young people might just think they won't live to see the future pictured in those movies anyway, so why bother about it at all?

We need more Sci-Fi that deals with the exploration and settlement of the solar system. A future that will (hopefully) become reality within the next 50 to 100 years. That might get more people interested in following these technical careers, knowing that they themselves could see the results of their work and the bright future it could bring.

Well that's why I'm developing this economic space strategy game with realistic orbits. I hope I'm not too much of a geek to make it fun ;-)

So back to work now, "creating people"

Douglas Mallette said...

Thomas - You hit the nail on the head, and that's exactly what I'm talking about. A show with real science possibilities, but not a show about science. Something totally entertaining with action, romance, Bones, House, 24, etc...but on the stage is not just Earth, but our solar system.