Pretend To Be A User Wednesday, Dec 21 2011 

This (attributed to ) originally appeared duri...

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I was recently working with some partners on a charity’s Facebook page. We were having a little trouble getting everything we wanted in place because, like any good Americans, we wanted it all and we wanted it now! We wanted our landing page to have reveal tabs and donations page to have “tweet to friends”, our posts to be written by Benjamin Franklin and our art carved by Michaelangelo! Erm. Yes.

Well the one thing we were forgetting is that community development is a long term goal, not an instant conversion. We should be happy we get a “like” to start with and thrilled to get a donation down the road.

We’d gotten in so deep at that point our page plan was a mess! So what did we do?

We took a step back, had a couple beers and logged out of facebook went to our facebook page and said, “Lets pretend we’ve never heard of this charity ever. It doesn’t matter how we got here, but now we’re here. What do we see?”

Then we started asking questions: Having looked at our landing page for 2 seconds do we know what the page is about? is it worth a like? Why not? What can we do to make it worth a like? Ok, now we liked it- now what? And so on…

In short we went through the “conversion” process and decided exactly how a completely uninformed lead should be nurtured to becoming a donor / spokesperson for our cause.

And that, really, was our goal- to create donors! But we’d forgotten our strategy and gotten mucked up in tactics. Always remember a tactic supports a strategy! On their own tactics are a waste of bandwith. We all love new toys but what good is Voltron’s sword arm without the head? Savvy?

@pallanteMichael 😉

You Are Still Heroes (Welcome Home Atlantis) Thursday, Jul 21 2011 

Postage stamp of the Soviet Union, Sputnik-2, ...

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In my senior year of high school my modern history teacher had each member of the class write down a list of the 3 most important men of the 20th century. Unsurprisingly the mean average of names equated to Kennedy, Hitler and a toss up between Stalin and Lenin. Though the list was anonymous, when reading my list to the class our teacher skipped the third name I’d written and gave me a curious glance. Whether he recognized my handwriting or my candor I’ll never know but he refused to read the name Laika the Dog.

 

Laika was the sole passenger of Sputnik 2, a Soviet spacecraft designed to study the affects space travel on living creatures, and the first animal ever to orbit Earth. Laika was also the first orbital death. Perhaps my teacher thought listing Laika among Hitler, Stalin and Kennedy, who changed our world and identities forever, was glib. I thought it was poetic. Laika, to me, has always represented a harbinger of the difficulties to result from the technological revolution of the 20th century. In 1900 we were riding horse and buggies through the streets of major cities. A mere 70 years later the first humans were walking on the moon. By the end of the century we’d landed rovers on Mars.

 

Laika, for the sake or progress, has the dubious renown of being the first creature born on Earth to die in space. She represents the sacrifice in the face of technology that we, as a human race, have had to endure. Clearly the Soviets agreed there was something poignant about Laika’s tragedy when they emblazoned the pup on a 1959 stamp.

 

Laika didn’t die as a result of space travel herself, so much as the result of the space race. As the cold war fueled a space war between the United States and the USSR the need to be first in space compelled each nation toward alacrity not prudence. To that end the Soviets sent Laika up into orbit on Sputnik 2 with no idea how, and no intention to, return her safely to Earth. The Soviets had planned to humanely euthanise Laika while in orbit but never had the chance. After 7 hours of telemetry, showing Laika was under stress but eating food, all data stopped. Conflicting reports ranging from equipment failure to successful euthanasia persisted from the date of the flight, November 3 1957, until October 2002. Dimitri Malashenkov, a scientist who worked on the Sputnik 2 mission, stated in a paper presented to the World Space Congress that Laika had died from overheating in the cabin of Sputnik 2. Malashenkov wrote, “It turned out that it was practically impossible to create a reliable temperature control system in such limited time constraints.”

 

In the race to be first sacrifices were made. Laika died not because of space travel but because of pressure on scientists from the space race. On April 14 1958 Sputnik 2 disentgrated on renetry as it fell from orbit. The shuttle and Laika, the first space dog now memorized in a Russian monument in Moscow, burned up.

 

The world had already endured tragedies of technology. Factories of the 19th century had disfigured and killed thousands of workers, often women and chilldren. The result of the Manhattan project had produced the most destructive single act in the history of mankind in Hiroshima and again in Nagasaki. Mechanized warfare had already shown us unprecedented casualties in two world wars. However Laika was different. She didn’t die from technology itself; she died from the pursuit of technology. Laika’s death, alone in a space capsule, was as much a result of politics as academia.

 

By the year 2000 we’d see no less than 22 more casualties due to space flight or space training, including the crew of the 1986 Challenger tragedy.

 

In 1986 the Space Shuttle Challenger, carrying the first ever civilian astronaut, Christa McAuliffe, disintegrated 73 seconds after launch due to a faulty O-ring seal in its rocket boosters. The high profile launch was broadcast live and became America’s first nationally televised tragedy.

 

Laika’s Sputnik 2 mission was hailed by the press for its technological triumph, proof that life could survive in orbit, and spun for its political implications, reinforcing Soviet space supremacy. While the pressures of the space race and cold war had rendered the ethics of Laika’s death a mere journalistic afterthought the real time broadcast of the Challenger disaster left no room for spin. Within an hour the majority of American households were contemplating the pure visceral truth that seven astronauts had died violently. The footage had been replayed on news broadcasts and for the first time Americans were viewing a disaster, not hearing about it after the fact.

 

In the 60’s our Astronauts were heroes, stepping beyond the boundries of our earth onto to ineffeable objectsof the heavens. More than a matter of national pride, being first on the Moon had sent a message to both Americans and Soviets. America was technologically superior and had the infrastructure to use that technology. We’d realized the dreams of Kennedy, whos murder still left a scar on the American psyche. By proxy we’d laid Kennedy to rest with dignity and in a time of disintegrating social order rallied our collective national conciousness by achieving the impossible. And we did it again. Throughout the seventies and early eighties we returned to the move- proving it wasn’t just a technological fluke. Bringing the heavens closer and giving the Soviets a reason to wonder what else the American megalith NASA was capable of. NASA was not just a research and development institution- the success of NASA was an issue of American Identity and American defense. Even with the near disaster of Apollo 13, NASA remained cool and the image of grace under pressure. While Apollo 13 was a technical failure it was a major success in proving that we could send a man to space, and even in the worst of scenarios, bring him back through the calm execution of procedure.

 

When the Challenger failed our vision of a NASA as an Olympian failed with it. When the Rogers Commission issued its report citing NASA’s own community for ignoring the known dangers of the O-Ring our faith in NASA procedure was equally shaken.

 

Less than a year after NASA resumed manned space missions in 1988 revolutions throughout Europe hinted at the fall of Communism. The symbolic pinnacle of the revolutions which began in 1989 came with the reunificatino of East and Wester Germany on October 3 1990. A year later the Soviet Union dissolved the Warsaw Treaty, a mutual protection agreement among 8 major Communist nations, and effectively spelled the end of the cold war.

 

With the cold war over and our perfect vision of NASA perverted by tragedy America’s love of NASA dwindled. Shuttle launches became morning talk show human interest pieces and when Buzz Aldrin answered Bart Sibrel‘s accusations of fakery with a swift punch to the face it became clear Americans now looked at NASA quite differently than we did in the sixties.

 

In the early 21st century two more tragedies would cast space exploration in a new context for Americans. The terror attacks of September 11th 2001 on financial and military targets on American soil represented the emergence of a national threat unseen since the cold war. However, our new enemy had used box cutters, not tanks. They were a religious and political collective, not a nation. They had no diplomats. No headquarters. No civilian population. The new national enemy didn’t fear our technology, our military or our hubris. If they even believed we’d been to the moon it was of little consequence to them. With all our might we had no place to point our weapons. The web of terror networks was nebulous and transitory.

 

Then, on February 1 2003, the space shuttle Columbia dissolved on reentry claiming the lives of all seven crew members. The intrinsic tragedy of the event was compounded by a country increasingly concerned with homeland security. If Challenger had given America doubts about the space program in a time of stability then Columbia spurred outright criticism in a time of hysteria and xenophobia. Space flights were suspended while the Columbia disaster was investigated. Forty-eight days after Columbia had exploded Operation Iraqi Freedom began on March 20 2003, the same day Columbia’s flight recorder was discovered in Texas, to praise and criticism. Confusion over the war and mistrust of the Government sparked protests, Internet debate and a social upheavel unseen since protests of the Vietnam War in the late sixties.

 

Perhaps trying to invoke the former majesty of NASA, which once collected the minds and dreams of Americans with the first lunar landing, President George W. Bush announced a new US Space Policy on January 14 2004. The Vision for Space Exploration policy, announced more than a year before space shuttle program would even resumed, outlined the Constellation program. The President made the bold announcement that America would not only fulfill our obligations to the International Space Station, which had relied solely on the Russian space program for supplies since the Columbia disaster, that NASA would resume (robotic) Moon landings by 2008 in anticipation for manned craft by 2020. From the Moon, claimed the President, we would send manned ships to Mars and beyond.

 

The constellation program, in short, never happened. President George W. Bush never allocated funds and NASA never conceived a budget for the Constellation program. Further, the project was hampered by American apathy. If the Columbia disaster had done anything it had made Americans question NASA. Why, after all, should we be budgeting so much for pure research which was increasingly abstract compared to the tangible political and scientific results of the first lunar landings? Weren’t we at war? Shouldn’t we focus on Osama Bin Laden, not Mars? With almost no popular suppart and serious organizational issues, the Constellation program was dismantled by president Barrack Obama in April 2010.

 

A NASA budget approved by Congress later that year took manned spaceflight out of NASA’s hands and placed it in the private sector. Eight billion dollars and five years after President G.W. Bush announced plans for Mars NASA had nothing to show- and now it seems that spaceflight is in the hands of the free market entirely.

 

The future of space travel and NASA’s role is uncertain. NASA’s political importance has dwindled along with its ability to capture America’s imagination. And unless Obama succeeds where Bush failed, in following through with policy, funding and oversight of NASA in the important coming years, NASA may end up like Laika. A necessary political sacrifice to progress.

 

UPDATE:

 

When I wrote this the future of NASA was a question mark. It still is. As Atlantis returns… all I can say is: Welcome home. We salute you. You are still heroes.