Going Global

by grouperlab

As has been said, it may take a trip to distant lands to understand one’s life at home.  Whether home is a specific building, a postal code, or even a set of celestial coordinates, the lesson is that things that may be perceived in one way when you’re up close take on a different perspective when you get more… perspective.  In an earlier entry, “Origin Story,” I mentioned the crew of Apollo 8 and their experience of the Earth from lunar orbit that was captured in the famous and iconic “Earthrise” photo.  (It should not be underestimated how much that photo, and other NASA “whole disk” images of Earth contributed to the imagery and development of the Earth Day movement.)  As a geek since childhood, I am a big fan of NASA—it is, of course, why I have felt so proud and honored to work in this area and represent STEM engagement for Indiana as Director of the NASA Indiana Space Grant Consortium.  However, I’m used to NASA stuff and especially the “Meatball” logo, as a pretty distinctive alert:

WARNING: the wearer of this logo may be thinking mathematical thoughts and seeing pretty engineering and science formulae at any given moment. 

Geek alert?  OK.  Nerd pride?  I’m certainly good with that.  But cutting edge alternative brand representation?  I wasn’t ready for that, until I saw this display case in a store in our local mall.  (Just for reference, this is not an anchor department store, or a clothing store with full-page ads in leading lifestyle magazines.  Think more like adolescent and young adult subculture references.)  And notice, this display case is at the front of the store: it’s what they hope will draw people into the place to pick up other items referencing 1970s music groups or 1990s movies or… in other words, a different kind of marketing than I’m used to.


Figure 1.  NASA as mall candy?

However, I did file this away for future thought as we are ramping up the Purdue 150th and Apollo 11 50th Anniversary celebrations on campus.  Hmmm… NASA might be trending?  Or is that just where I happen to be right now?

How does one check on that?  My general answer has always been, “Scan and Connect”.  Get out of one’s local spot (either geographical or intellectual or social), and look around at what else is out there.  Yep.  we’re working on planning for the Apollo 11th activities.  Let’s get a team together, and tap into energy around the campus: an air show, special archives exhibits, pictures of astronauts and the Purdue Big Bass Drum.  (No, that’s not a joke: being able to bang the drum is a VERY BIG DEAL, and when you’re both the first to walk on the moon and a Purdue band alumnus, you get to do it, with a big smile.)


Figure 2. Neil bangs the drum, Purdue Astronaut Reunion, 1999.


Yes, that would engage the campus.  Let’s go bigger.  Symphony Orchestra concerts?  Sure.  Exhibits at science and children’s museums across the State?  Of course.  Activities to engage K-12 students to understand the past and (more importantly) celebrate and engage in the future of space exploration?  Every chance we get.  All right, we’re going to make sure this “NASA in Indiana” effort is as broad and capable as we’re able to make it.

And then, earlier this month, I went to the airport for a trip.  It was a research trip, but not for Space Grant or one of my NASA projects.  The destination was someplace I like, but not a regular NASA spot:  not Houston, or Florida, or California.  It was Sweden.  I’m not surprised to see a few NASA shirts on people in the Indianapolis airport.  (Remember, we have Purdue and Indiana University and Ball State and Valpo and Southern Indiana students working on NASA projects all the time.)  I get on the plane.  It’s a comfortable and relaxing flight to Paris, and plenty of time for coffee and croissant during my layover.  And there is another NASA shirt.  Was this someone on my flight?  I don’t think so.  That’s curious.  But I’m not that outgoing, so I don’t walk up to them to ask.  (That was a mistake, but hey, I was tired.)

Another plane, and then a train, and arrival in the tech center of southern Sweden.  I’ve got a day of readjustment and project planning and catching sunlight to forestall the effects of jet lag; nothing better than wandering around the city and exploring.  As I walk in the historic heat (only about 88F, but this is Sweden), I see a variety of scaffolds and music loudspeakers and food booths being set up for their major multi-day, city-wide street festival.  Oh, I think to myself.  I must be some kind of work geek: I was so busy thinking about the project, I wasn’t really aware.  But that’s okay.

The six-hour work meeting goes really well, and both sides seem to be looking forward to the project development effort.  Time to find some dinner as a treat.  I’m again wandering around the city, with an eclectic and growing mix of faces and languages and interests.  And then it happens again.  Another NASA shirt?  And there’s the logo on a hat!  In one case, I pass close enough to overhear the conversation the person is having.  It does me no good, and I won’t learn about their choice of that article of clothing—they and their companions are not speaking English, or the other languages I ever learned.  Saturday morning, and my last day in town begins with rain.  That’s okay, as I have more Apollo 11 planning to think about.  But remember, Barrett, go out to scan and connect.  With more time in the festival, I get a better sense of my way around, and one more time, a shirt catches my attention.  It’s the Meatball.  Too far away for me to catch up, sadly.  Now I do want to know, though.  Who are these folks, and why do they connect to the U.S. space agency?  Hope?  Promise?  Cool?  Inspiration?  Next time, I will ask.  It teaches me so much to find the answers, no matter where I might be.



Figure 3.  Hej!  Hello!  Do you speak NASA?