Messy situation for NASA

NASA has worked hard to promote its new mission of manned flights to the moon and eventually Mars, and numerous other ongoing projects. But the...

NASA has worked hard to promote its new mission of manned flights to the moon and eventually Mars, and numerous other ongoing projects. But the tale of Lisa Marie Nowak, the astronaut arrested for attempted murder of a woman she felt was a rival for a fellow astronaut's affections, was too much for media and late-night TV to resist, not least owing to the case's bizarre details.

Among them: Nowak, who in 2006 flew on the second shuttle mission after the Columbia accident, reportedly wore diapers during a 900-mile drive from Houston to Orlando to skip rest stops.

David Mould, head of public affairs for NASA and acting press secretary, told PRWeek that following word of Nowak’s arrest and the intense media interest it’s provoked, NASA management initially debated how extensive its outreach should be, and decided finally to hold a major press conference on February 7 that included NASA’s deputy administrator, its chief medical officer, the head of health screening for the astronaut corps, and the deputy director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“I think it was the right thing to do because our people became a large part of the news coverage, rather than all these instant experts that materialize whenever something happens,” Mould said. “Rule one of PR: tell your own bad news. If you know something is going to be talked about, you can have experts talk about it on your terms, or do nothing and other people will tell the story for you, and they’re usually not the people that you would have chosen to do that.”

Still, overcoming the baser interests of media consumers isn’t easy, he said. Astronaut are currently engaged in space walks on the International Space Station, and NASA plans launches of an unmanned rocket this week and a manned shuttle in March, Mould noted, but “ask somebody on the street what’s going on at NASA today and you’ll get the story of this woman and her diaper driving across Texas.”

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