ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Beth Beck

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.
Today, I asked Beth Beck from NASA to answer a few questions.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?
I’m a political scientist with almost 25 years in the federal government. I work at NASA Headquarters in Washington D.C. I have an undergraduate degree in Government from the University of Texas with concentration on language, specifically Spanish. My grad degree comes from the LBJ School of Public Affairs in Austin. I am a non-techie working in NASA techie-land.
Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?
I’m a communicator. An extrovert among introverts. I don’t see the world as others do, but how boring would life be if we all agreed?
I started my federal career as a Fellow in the Terrorism Analysis office at the CIA. Terrorism was new to the U.S. at the time. 9/11 changed all that. I wrote my grad thesis on International Cooperation to Combat Terrorism, then I accepted a job at NASA. Go figure.
I started out at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. When I was assigned to the task force commissioned by President George H.W. Bush to look at options for returning to the Moon and Mars, I ended up at NASA Headquarters in Washington DC. My job: to craft a 30-year organizational structure to allow NASA creative flexibilities to manage an evolving Moon/Mars program. I still have the file from the early 90’s.
Beth Beck pic.jpg
We changed directions, so I accepted a permanent job at Headquarters in the Space Station office. During my time at Headquarters, I’ve moved a good deal – usually due to internal reorganizations. I worked with our international partners for five years. Another five in Public Affairs with a long stint as Editor of I served as a LEGIS Fellow in the Senate for a year. Now I’m the Outreach Program Manager for the Office of Space Operations – five years so far. Yes, I’m a rolling stone.
I think my most memorable experience at NASA was the day we nearly sparked World War III. Short story: we partnered with the Norwegians on NASA’s Sounding Rocket campaign. We launched our instruments on their Black Brandt XII rockets off the coast of Norway. The Russians thought they were incoming missiles. Lots of drama. And yes, fingers were poised on red retaliation buttons for one hair-raising second before calm prevailed. The Norwegians sent me a T-shirt with a picture of the rocket and the caption: “I almost caused WWIII!”
Everything I work on is interesting .(Ok, almost everything.) Not the paper and process – but the programs themselves. A few stand out:
1. The end of the Space Shuttle program in September.
2. Completion of Space Station assembly this year.
3. NASA and social media – specifically Launch/Mission Tweet-ups.
4. LAUNCH Water sustainability forum.
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
The coolest project EVER!!!!! is our wildly-successful sustainability incubator. I’m sure I have words to express how THRILLED we are at our first event a few weeks ago. We’ve been sweating blood to make it happen for the last year.
Our goal: Accelerate Innovation for a Sustainable Future.
We’d been looking for ways to tell our Space Station green story, and this concept fit the bill. We pulled together a team of creative folks, all bringing together different strengths, to birth the LAUNCH:Water incubator.
We wanted a TED-style event but with teeth, where we can chomp into issues and mash-up new approaches and solutions.
We created as a global initiative to identify and support the innovative work that is poised to contribute to a sustainable future. We want this process to accelerate solutions to meet urgent challenges facing our society. That’s the goal: to make a difference, leave this world better tomorrow than it is today.
We chose water as a logical starting point because it’s an issue we deal with on Space Station every day in orbit. Not only is water a critical commodity for our orbiting pioneers, but for so many living on our home planet.
You can view the Innovator videos online, thanks to our partner Nike:
What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?
Social media interests me. I love finding new ways to communicate. Keeping up with the changing landscape of technology and applications is a FULL-time job. I barely skim the surface, but what a fun time skimming cream off the top!
How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?
I LOVE social media, though I spend most my time on Twitter, Facebook and blogging. I like the fact that I can follow blogs now by signing up through Twitter or Facebook. I use Google Reader, but I have to take time to go read everything in my reader. I like the blogs to drop in my email so I don’t have to do anything but read them. I’m lazy! I want info to come to me, rather than have to search it out. I haven’t really caught on to Google Wave or Buzz. Twitter already meets that need. Wave takes time to be creative, and I haven’t invested the time to use it creatively.
NET POSITIVE!!! For NASA, we have a new community built around social media interaction. I have new friends I’ve met through Twitter/Facebook who’ve attended our Tweet-ups. Now we’re friends in real life, in addition to digital life.
Social media is expanding my universe!
When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?
Science blogs discovered me. Karen James (@kejames) and I met on Twitter through her space passion. She’d just recently connected with Space Station astronaut Mike Barratt, who participated in her Beagle Project with a downlink live from Station.
Karen invited me to join the panel on Science Online 2010 – which was an amazingly cool experience. I’m thrilled to be part of your community now. And, by the way, Karen is Mike’s guest to his upcoming launch: STS-133, our final mission of the Space Shuttle program – if our current schedule holds.
What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 for you? Any suggestions for next year? Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
I absolutely LOVED the session with the students. Changed the way I see technology applications – through their eyes. I’d love to have them rate OUR websites, social media activities next year. They can be our future leader consultants. We could submit projects to them, let them choose their favs, and tell us why. (I’d rather not do the best/worst list on stage. I’d hate to find NASA ones on the bottom.)
Might be fun to have them schedule one-on-one time with us to give us feedback. Good experience for them to provide consultation. Good experience for us to hear the naked truth – no matter how painful.
Love, love, love them!
It was so nice to meet you in person and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.


4 responses to “ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Beth Beck

  1. I am a little disappointed that someone at this level in NASA would launch “Black Brandt XII rockets off the coast of Norway” and not have the insight to think maybe the next door neighbors might get a little anxious as to her intentions. Especially since one would expect a person with a degree in government and experience in the public sector would have a little more insight into how other governments might view such activities. No?

  2. Good observations. Yes, the Norwegians notified all the surrounding countries. Problem is, not everyone got “the memo” in country. The Norwegians launch Sounding Rockets from the Andoya range. This wasn’t the first time. It was, however, the first time their neighbors took issue. (And I don’t launch rockets. I negotiated the agreement with the Norwegians to enable the mission.)

  3. Meeting Beth Beck was one of the highlights of ScienceOnline2010. Following the vast network of NASA bloggers and tweeters is awesome.

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