Thursday, March 31, 2016

Selling Cookies & Cupcakes for NASA Planetary Exploration

April 2012, four years ago, a professor of mine approached me with an opportunity: would I be interested in running the Orlando location of the national Planetary Exploration Car Wash and Bake Sale being organized by Alan Stern (of Pluto/New Horizons fame)? I laughed so hard at the concept, I had to say yes. Sounded like a blast!

In January, the presidential administration issued its FY2013 budget request which projected a significant decrease in NASA’s planetary science funding over the course of five years starting in FY2013. The planetary science community was up in arms to organize and combat these cuts in Congress.

It was understood that the car wash and bake sale was a publicity stunt. In no way could anyone make up the cut NASA funds in local community fundraising. The idea was to use the event as a platform to increase attention to the issue and to gather large groups of people to write letters to Congress in support of planetary science.

I coordinated with other locations running similar car washes and bake sales via regular teleconferences. I had met Alan before, but I had never worked directly with him until this point. I remember being very impressed with his organization and leadership style. Most meetings are run inefficiently, but Alan made the planning of the event easy and fun.

Not so easy on my end was bringing in more people to help me. I recruited a fellow student to assist with public relations. A few professors and other students were on board to help with the set-up and staffing of the event. But I carried the torch and it was heavier than I anticipated. It was even difficult to secure a location! Once I realized that local participation was going to be low, I axed the idea of running a car wash powered by volunteers and shifted to hosting a bake sale at a car wash location.

A day before the event, publicity exploded. News organizations from all over were asking for quotes. I got a call from CNN’s sister network Headline News (HLN) to be interviewed. A bakery in New Jersey wanted to donate and overnight us baked goods. My public relations helper was overwhelmed. We were able to get a few articles published with quotes, but it was such a whirlwind I can’t tell you how many or where.

I managed to get in touch Alan to let him know about the HLN interview. He was able to call in audio-only while I went into the studio in Orlando for the interview. I have a recording of the interview on CD but I haven’t watched it since it happened and couldn’t tell you what they asked. My standard line was, “We’re not asking for more of the pie; we’re asking for less of a bite out of the pie.”

HLN interview - June 8, 2012

The Orlando Planetary Exploration Bake Sale occurred on June 9 in conjunction with other such events around the nation. We arranged the baked goods on the tables and gave them themed names. Thanks to NASA KSC’s public affairs office, we had NASA meatball stickers, exploration posters, and pretty images of the planets all over. We had form letters for people to sign that we would send to Congress. Our humble event looked great!

Admiring our display - June 9, 2012

In the end, we collected just enough money in donations to cover the cost of the purchased baked goods and postage. We sent approximately 275 letters to key members of Congress. A couple news camera came to cover the event. Our little publicity stunt was a success!

Can I offer you a cookie? - June 9, 2012

NASA’s planetary science budget has been in great shape ever since. The United States has the most successful planetary exploration track record in the world. With the success of missions such as New Horizons, hopefully our nation will continue to invest in our planetary exploration missions.

No comments:

Post a Comment