Blog Post 5 – Interview with an Astronaut
Once I decided I was going to write my final project on the topic of human spaceflight, I knew there was one man to talk to: Professor/Colonel Jim Voss. Colonel Voss is currently a professor in the Aerospace Engineering department at the University of Colorado, and has plenty of experience in the field of spaceflight. He is a former astronaut who has been on multiple missions to the International Space Station and lived there for 6 months at a time. Colonel Voss is also well known for holding the record (with Susan Helms) for the longest Extra-vehicular activity (EVA), or spacewalk, on the International Space Station for 8 hours and 56 minutes.
Upon talking to Colonel Voss, I asked him about his strategies and struggles with communication about spaceflight to both people in his field and outside of it. Colonel Voss told me the biggest problem with communicating to the public was that “People don’t understand why we go to space and what we do there. The challenge is getting people to see the value – they often have a poor understanding of the cost to go to space and usually don’t know the benefits.” All in all, the general public doesn’t quite understand the benefits that have come from space research and this results in a knee jerk reaction when they see a number with a some zeroes behind it. When it comes to the people in his own field, Colonel Voss mentioned that the biggest problem was “…convincing people that a particular technical solution is the better solution [than another proposed solution].” There are multiple solutions to one problem and proving that one is better than the other can result in troubles in communication.
After asking Voss about his strategies and solutions to these issues, he stated that for the public “I try to communicate the cost to benefit ratio by providing the reality of expenditures by our government to support space activities and by giving real world examples of benefits from space activities.” Voss tries to clear any haze the public may have from the little knowledge about the field they contain. As for a solution to the issue in the space community, Voss stated “I try to use sound engineering analysis to show the value of one answer over others. Trade studies where solutions are compared analytically is a method that I sometimes use.” He simply uses mathematics and analysis to prove one solution is a better option than others.
The most important piece of information I gained from Colonel Voss was how he communicates with the public. Since my project is directed towards the populace of the United States, it’s important to start off with explaining the research and what their benefits are that come from it. The biggest obstacle in this topic is the lack of understanding many people have about spaceflight. In order to successfully communicate with my target audience, I’ll need to take this into account and hope to give them a better understanding of space research.