Sometimes NASA can be a victim of its own success, says David Mould, head of public affairs. When shuttle launches go well, the public, after a time, takes them for granted and forgets the great risks astronauts take.
"With the technology available today, we are just barely able to accomplish space travel," explains Mould. "It's not like Star Trek where you go into warp speed, or that type of thing - that's science fiction. It's our job to explain that this is a risky business, and it will be risky for the foreseeable future."
Nevertheless, as a former journalist who worked for the Memphis Commercial-Appeal, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and United Press International, Mould knows that even if some people take space travel for granted, many around the world are still fascinated by it.
"If there is anything in PR that doesn't need to be hyped and packaged like fast food, it's space exploration," says Mould, who during his 10-year UPI stint covered 20 space launches. "It's the epitome of what humans can do."
Heading a team of 350 public affairs pros with the assistance of NASA press secretary Dean Acosta, Mould manages the many aspects of public outreach, from the agency's cable TV channel to its Web site, educational programs around the US, and the extensive PR around the shuttle launches.
Mould worked in public affairs for some years after his days as a journalist. First, he was media relations manager for the Southern Co., where he got to travel all around the world in the wake of the energy industry's deregulation and subsequent spate of M&As. He then served as communications VP for PG&E National Energy Group. Mould recalls many exciting times at his past jobs, but he never enjoyed them as much as his work for NASA.
"If you're doing something this interesting, a 60-hour week is just not a big deal," he says.
Most hectic is the period just before the shuttle launches. About 1 million people watched the July 4 Space Shuttle Discovery launch on TV. It was the first shuttle mission since the 2003 Challenger explosion. In addition, about 25,000 people were on-site for the launch from Cape Canaveral, FL. That included some 3,000 accredited media, plus many thousands more VIPs, including members of Congress, space industry reps, guests of the astronauts' families, and more - all of whom needed to be fed, briefed by NASA officials, and otherwise accommodated.
In working with the many media that cover shuttle launches, Mould and Acosta note the benefit gained from being former journalists. They know what questions to expect and how reporters will likely react to their answers.
Acosta spent 15 years as a journalist, including Emmy-award-winning work for KPNX in Phoenix. He traveled to many of the same locales as Mould. He says the two had an instant rapport.
"We knew some of the same people. We had the same views of news coverage and an under-standing of breaking news," says Acosta, who joined NASA in February 2003, shortly before the Challenger explosion. "We're a good team. I'm sure Dave and I will be friends long past NASA."
Their journalism backgrounds also come in handy when arranging interviews for NASA scientists. NASA's entire public affairs team spends a lot of time working with the scientists and engineers on how best to talk in laymen's terms.
"High-level technical folks will say, 'This is what I'll say because it is precisely the correct answer,'" Mould says. "We must say, 'That's fine. You understand that, but the people you're talking to won't.' It's media training all day long."
NASA, asst. administrator for public affairs
Griswold-Lesser, principal and director, DC operations
Special assistant to the US secretary of energy
VP of comms, PG&E