Tag Archives: NASA

Children’s Author Brings Love of Space to Young Readers

sue_100daysinorbitThere’s something captivating about space exploration that ignites the imagination. I felt it as a child watching Star Trek, and it’s evident in the public interest in the ISS, NASA, and in space visionaries like Richard Branson and Elon Musk.

That’s why I am so excited to feature Sue Ganz-Schmitt, a talented children’s book author, sue_nasa-launchmother and philanthropist. Sue has also served as a NASA Social correspondent, an experience that I enjoyed for the first time last April at the SpaceX launch to the ISS. She has taken insights from her behind-the-scenes tour of NASA and the launch pad and applied them to her children’s books.

Her third book, Planet Kindergarten, out this past August, earned a Kirkus starred review:  “A genius way to ease kids into the new adventure that is kindergarten.”  The Mommy Reads blog included this positive plug from a young reader:

“T is in love with Planet Kindergarten by Sue Ganz-Schmitt and Shane Prigmore.  We have read it 38 times…..so far.  It has been our bedtime story night after night.  This book is ABSOLUTELY perfect for my guy and I feel like maybe, just maybe, it was written just for him.  I love the rich vocabulary and comparison between outer space and the classroom.planet-kindergarten  Seriously-one of our best reads this summer!”

Below, Sue shares her unique background and how she has applied her love of the stars to touch children’s imaginations, and offers tips on how to connect with readers and with fellow writers.

Q. You have such an interesting background, Sue, with your interests in helping children all over the world. You also love space. How were you able to combine these passions as a book author?

Sue: My first book, Even Superhereos Get Diabetes, was inspired by a play-friend of my then sue_superheroesbookcovertwo-year-old daughter who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.  I wanted to reach out and help the family facing the shock of diagnosis.  I tried to find an empowering picture book they could read to him.  When I couldn’t find what I was looking for I decided to write my own book.

I watched the family become like superheroes in a blink – waking up several times a night to blood test their toddler, counting every bite of carbs he ate, injecting him several times a day.  Exhausted and worried, none of them complained – they just rose to the occasion with grace and strength.  I wanted to help them feel supported with this new unknown looming over them, and I wanted other kids to understand the medical challenge that their friends with diabetes face.

As a kindergartener, I watched several rocket launches that culminated in the Apollo 11 moon landing.  I was very inspired by NASA and had a fascination with space.   Almost subconsciously, a NASA reference found its way into this story where the hero discovers that his doctor has diabetes-related superpowers and a secret lair that looks like NASA’s mission control.

Q. What inspired your Planet Kindergarten book series?

Sue:  In my third book, Planet Kindergarten, I watched the kids from my daughter’s pre-school make the transition to kindergarten.  One of her best friends was having a really rough go of it and had to act as brave as an astronaut to get through it – but I could see lots of days he just wanted to abort this mission to kindergarten. A storyline came together and I wrote a book that I hoped would both inspire kids to be interested in space while easing their fears about their school journey.

Q. How did you incorporate real-life science and facts about space to make it engaging to such a young audience?

Sue: I cut my teeth on space-themed family TV shows like “Lost In Space” and “The Jetsons.” I visited NASA’s Kennedy Space Center while writing Planet Kindergarten and picked up some books on the Gemini/Apollo programs.  I poured through them, as well as lots of space fact books from Barnes and Noble.  One day I was online and found an article about hsue_illustrationsue_illustration2ow our earth is encircled by space trash (human created space debris).  I was so disturbed that not only are we polluting our own planet ­– but the orbit around our planet.  I had to include a nod to containing our trash in the first Planet Kindergarten book.

I love watching space-themed movies.  For my just released book, Planet Kindergarten: 100 Days in Orbit, you may pick up on some influence from the movie “Gravity” (spacewalk scene).  And the cover/last page image is modeled after a key scene in the movie, “The Right Stuff. ”

Q.What was the most challenging aspect of becoming a children’s author? The most rewarding aspect?

Sue: Great question, Anne. I think the most difficult part in pursuing a creative dream like becoming an author is perseverance.  There were many obstacles and self-doubts that I had to face.  I nearly gave up being a writer just two weeks before Planet Kindergarten went into a bidding war.

Being in a creative field, you are required to get feedback/critiques to make your work the best it can possibly be and that can cause you to question your abilities.  Also the road to get a publishing deal is fraught with rejection.  Even the best known authors have faced this (yes, you J.K. Rowling!).

As a sensitive introvert type – this has challenged me to grow. I have learned not to take rejection personally, but to get back to work each time to learn where my manuscript fell short, or to accept when the market isn’t timed right for my story.  I have learned when to let go and move ahead on a new project.  I often remind myself of the NASA themed line from Planet Kindergarten, “Failure is not an option!”

A reward for perseverance is when you hear from parents about how your book has helped sue_princessbookcovertheir child.  I have heard from parents with food allergies how The Princess and the Peanut helped their child not to feel alone; I heard from one parent who shared that their child decided to become a doctor to help other kids with diabetes, after reading Even Superheroes Get Diabetes.  And from lots of parents how Planet Kindergarten helped calm their children’s nerves over their first days of school.

Another rewarding part of this journey has been getting to go to NASA rocket launches and NASA Social events, behind the scenes tours at JPL, space lectures at CalTech, and spending time with the great folks at the Planetary Society.

Q. What one tip would you offer authors who want to reach a young audience, from pre-school to elementary ages?

Sue:  If they haven’t already, join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (scbwi.org).  I learned much of what I know about the craft of writing for children and the business side of publishing and promoting your work from them. They are an incredible resource for all levels of writers from those who are thinking of writing to those who have published numerous books.  A writing teacher once told everyone in our class to join, so I did.  It was the best career move I have ever made!

Q. How important is social media to building an author platform? How can parents find you?

Sue: Authors often spend their workday in solitary – we need ways to connect with our audience and others.  Social media keeps us in the face of the public. And while you shouldn’t over-promote your book on social media, people will build an impression of you and hopefully remember you when they see your book in the stores or featured online.

Don’t try to be everywhere, and if you aren’t keen on social media, just find the platform that you are most comfortable with and show up there often.  I tweet throughout the day.  I love Twitter as a newsfeed to learn more about science, technology, and space and to share that with my followers.  I also love using it to reach out and connect with space fans and other authors so we can support each other.  And – I met you there!  So lots to gain from it.

Q. What is next for you in terms of writing?

Sue: I just won an award for my new manuscript Space Cow.  So stay tuned for an adventure with a brave bovine heading to Mars!  I am also making a plan toward getting my Master’s Degree in Fine Arts (Writing for Young People).

About the Author  

sue_authorpicSue Ganz-Schmitt is a children’s book author, mother, musical theater producer, and philanthropist. Sue is passionate about helping children and families. She is co-founder of an AIDS orphanage in Haiti, has traveled to China to help medically-challenged orphans and set up a birthing clinic in rural India. She has performed on Broadway, run a marathon, and pursues other improbable challenges – as often as she can. Sue has authored four picture books found here:  http://www.sueganzschmitt.com/. She has served as a NASA Social correspondent and as a volunteer for the Planetary Society. You can often find her with eyes to the stars. She tweets at @planetkbooks and @royallyallergic or connect with her on Facebook under key words:  royallyallergic and planetkindergarten.

 

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Experiencing SpaceX ‘s First Launch of 2016 Live with NASA Social

LaunchPad

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket sits on its launch pad on Friday awaiting liftoff at Cape Canaveral.

The Writing Well celebrates storytelling in all its forms, and I am thrilled  to post a unique blog  with some of the social media “storytellers” invited by NASA to observe and report online during the April 8th SpaceX  launch of its Dragon Falcon to the International Space Station, SpaceX’s first launch of 2016.

Of course, it was SpaceX’s experimental drone ship landing  of the first phase — a feat that had been attempted before but succeeded for the first time last Friday — that created just as much excitement and with good reason: it paves the way for developing reusable, lower-cost spaceflight since future missions in deep space will depend upon a sea-based landing.

“It’s another step toward the stars,” said SpaceX founder Elon Musk during a post-launch press conference at Kennedy Space Center.

For those of you who are not space enthusiasts, take note:  NASA and private-sector space innovators are entering into a new and exciting chapter, one that fosters collaboration and hopefully successful outreach beyond low earth orbit to Mars and beyond.

Anne_SpaceX_Clock - Copy

Here I am at the countdown clock a little over an hour before launch.

Vehicle Assembly Building

Inside NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building, which is 520 feet high.

I was one of several bloggers and tweeters invited to take part in a “NASA Social,” a special behind-the-scenes opportunity sponsored by NASA’s social media team to experience the launch, tour key facilities and talk to some of the space agency’s best and brightest.  On Friday afternoon we found ourselves on the NASA Causeway  a little over two miles from the launch pad as the Dragon rocket roared into a perfect blue sky – and made history minutes later with the historic landing at sea of its first phase.

View 5 Stories High

A breathtaking view of Cape Canaveral and the launch pads from the roof of the VAB.

Before the launch we had the opportunity to tour Kennedy Space Center’s famed Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB, where engineers assemble large space vehicles. We headed several stories up to the roof where we enjoyed a breathtaking view of Cape Canaveral and took video and pictures of the launch pad.

NASA Crawler

NASA Crawler

We also got up close and personal with NASA Crawlers, the 50-year-old giant transporters that have carried shuttles and rockets since the Apollo era from the VAB to the launch pads at Launch Complex 39. We learned how they are being upgraded to handle the additional weight requirements of future launches.   We also heard from scientists, engineers and astronauts who are shaping NASA’s next chapter and the future of space exploration.

We gained a richer appreciation of the agency’s focus on supporting private partners like SpaceX to build the capability to support space exploration beyond low earth orbit. Who can’t wait to see the first launch of Orion in 2018 and follow its mission to take human exploration to Mars?

Below is a snapshot of a some of the bloggers, tweeters and YouTubers from across the country who I met and who are helping tell the new story of NASA and SpaceX to an increasingly excited public.

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Accuweather sponsored Brian's attendance at the NASA Social event.

Accuweather sponsored Brian’s attendance at the NASA Social event.

Brian Lada, Meteorologist and Journalist for Accuweather

City: State College, PA

Social platform of choice:    Twitter  / @wxlada

“I loved space as a kid. Growing up I wanted to be an astronaut. I loved watching all the rocket and shuttle launches on TV, but when it came time for college, I decided to go for meteorology because my other passion is the weather.  Fortunately, I can pursue my passion for astronomy as well. I help to manage our astronomy Facebook page and I talk about space all the time on my Twitter. Down here I am fulfilling my childhood dream of seeing NASA, meeting NASA, watching a space launch while still being in my weather world. I was sponsored by Accuweather and am reporting live from the ground for the company.”

“The one message I want to leave with my social media followers is Just how much weather can affect launches. I’ve been nervous the last few weeks about the winds and the probability of postponing the launch. Everyone is down here for this one day and if the weather is wrong, a lot of people are going to miss out. Fortunately, it is looking good.”

 

Matt2 - Copy

Matt plays video games for a living. Here, he’s streaming live on his Twitch channel during our briefing at the VAB.

Matt Anderson, Live Broadcaster, Twitch Interactive, Owner, Bad News Gaming

City: Dallas, TX

Social platform of choice: Twitch   @thebadnewsbaron

“What excites me most is seeing people get excited about space.  It’s been amazing. There’s been so little energy around the space program for a long time in the U.S. and it seems like that’s starting to come back again. SpaceX is starting to kick that into gear again a little bit, and a lot of entertainment media has brought that back, and what we saw with the Orion project I think will be absolutely astounding when it’s finished.”

“The one message I want to leave with followers is that the future of the space program is so incredibly bright – there is so much to look forward to with the technology that they are working on.”

KelleyRowe_MadisonChildrensMuseumKelley Rowe, Data Integration Specialist, Madison Children’s Museum

City: Madison, Wisconsin

Social media platform of choice: Facebook

“The most exciting part about being here is just getting to see the rocket launch in person and also I’ve heard that the roar from the engine you can feel even at this distance is kind of indescribable and can’t be experienced in any other way than seeing and feeling it for yourself.  That being said, everything we’ve done – the exclusive access to  the Vehicle Assembly Building, everything we’ve seen on our tour,  getting to go on the rooftop, getting to see the crew module being worked on for Orion, how can I pick a favorite from these really incredible and amazing experiences?”

“My one message to my followers is that I hope that they become aware of what’s out there – of the opportunities that especially STEM presents of what the U.S. and our space program is capable of, what they are capable of.  We’ve had some amazing interviews with NASA staff people who talked about dreaming of being involved in the space program since they were 5, 8, 10 years old. I hope our followers who are children are exposed to maybe something that they didn’t realize existed before, or hadn’t understood the scope of before and that somehow galvanizes or inspires them.”

 

Kayla, 19, has always dreamed of being an astronaut. Her tattoo by Martin Buechler includes the Neal Armstrong quote: "Humanity is not forever chained to this planet."

Kayla, 19, has always dreamed of being an astronaut. Her tattoo by Martin Buechler includes the Neil Armstrong quote: “Humanity is not forever chained to this planet.”

Kayla Robinson, College student majoring in engineering /insurance agent

City: Virginia Beach, Virginia

Social media platform of choice:  Instagram  @kaylajdr

“My dad had me into space since I was a kid. This is what I want to do. It’s been great, meeting different NASA workers, getting the inside scoop on what it takes to work here in the future.  For the past few months I’ve been thinking about going to school around here. Just being in this area and around this kind of environment makes me want to come even more.

“It’s really important for the general public to get into space and science – the American people are the ones who will be funding the federal program and will support all the private industry efforts—and that kind of broad support is going to get us to where we want to go.”

Jake Counselbaum

Jake Counselbaum, social media consultant

City: Chicago, Ill.

Social media platform of choice: Twitter /@jakecbaum

“What excites me most about space is the thought that we are not alone! Being at the SpaceX launch was an incredible opportunity to see the next generation of space travel, sustainably, reusability and exploration.”

“The one message I’d leave with my followers is this: keep using social media to impact people, not to just impress them.”

 

Brandon carrying a model of a Dragon rocket sent to him from a former engineer with SpaceX.

Brandon carrying a model of a Dragon rocket sent to him from a former engineer with SpaceX.

Brandon Thonen, Photographer, Disney Digital Marketing

Orlando, Fla.

Social platform of choice:    Twitter   /  @HipeRFin

What excites me about space is [the idea that] we have yet to reach the farthest we can go. There’s always going to be a further point.  The best part about being here today is being the closest I’ve even been to a previous launch. I usually watch from the crew ships.”

“My one message to social media followers is how impressive and massive every different part of NASA Kennedy Space Center truly is – no matter how many photos I take, it will never make up for it.”

Ashley Demers - Copy

Ashley, a NASA software developer and new hire, is spending eight weeks with groups outside her department. She was lucky to be assigned to the social media team and be part of the NASA Social on April 8th.

Ashley Demers, Software developer, Application Development Branch, IT, NASA Kennedy Space Center

City: Titusville, Fla.

Social Media Platform of Choice: Twitter /@ashley_demers

“What excites me about space is the ability to inspire and the ability to do research that you can’t physically do on the ground, the ability to learn more about our universe – there’s nothing you can’t love about space exploration.  I am very excited to be a part of this group, see the launch and go on the Vehicle Assembly building roof. Going on the roof is not something employees can easily do.

“The message I want to leave with my social media followers is that NASA is active, alive; we’re doing amazing things and all the science that’s going to be accomplished on this payload is going to be amazing. We’re doing really cool things.”

JeffDunn_Google

Jeff Dunn, Education and Outreach Manager, Google

City: Mountain View, Calif.

Social platform of choice:   Google+ / @googleforedu

“The best  part about space is it’s our future whether we like it or not, and there are both for-profit companies and governments working together to develop an actual future that we can all live in and keep us safe and not extinct.

“The best part of being here is that I got to meet a lot of interesting people both from NASA and via social media — I look forward to keeping that conversation going. Just seeing the passion from everybody has been overwhelming…you see it on webcasts, you see it on hashtag chats, but it’s nothing like seeing it in people jumping up and down as a rocket blasts off in front of you.

“My one message to social media followers is to get excited about the new opportunities for invention and exploration.”

Carter, 18, hopes to study computer science in college.

Carter, 18, hopes to study computer science in college.

Carter Dempsey, High school senior

City: Orlando, Fla.

Social platform of choice:   Twitter /@carterdemp

“What excites me about space is Just the idea of people living there every day and the possibility of being to another planet and just being self-sustained and getting to the point where there’s constant missions back and forth.  The commercialization of space is really cool — seeing people get more interested in space.

 “My one message to my social media followers is that I hope they would be more interested in the future of space – and just in science in general.”

 

Scott with his telescope equipped with a custom software program he developed for closed-loop tracking of moving objects, including satellites and rockets.

Scott with his telescope equipped with a custom software program he developed for closed-loop tracking of moving objects, including satellites and rockets.

Scott Ferguson, Neuroscientist, software developer and astronomy hobbyist

City: Tampa, Fla.

Social platform of choice:   YouTube

“I grew up in Titusville and saw a ton of launches.  I’ve seen some bad launches and some good launches.  I was sitting on my front lawn when Challenger exploded. That was a bad day, but today was a great day. It was the best launch I’ve ever gone to.  Another highlight was getting to stay on top of the VAB – I’ll probably never get to do that again. That was an incredible experience.  That was just an amazing view – words can’t do it justice. 

“In terms of social media, I hope to inspire young people to pursue math and science, and show what human effort can accomplish – and what we can accomplish when we work together. I think [the launch shows how far America can push the space industry and push forward with new innovations – when we unleash unbridled capitalism into the space program. What’s SpaceX is doing is really incredible and [their latest launch] proves they are really leading the competition in lowering space costs and that’s going to change the whole ballgame, I think, for spaceflight in the future.”

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NASA Social Group

The April 2016 NASA Social Group (photo courtesy of NASA Social)

More Reading

Check out my blog Q&A interview with “Orphans of Apollo” filmmaker Michael Potter.

Read my Via Satellite article on the ‘SpaceX effect’ in the launch vehicle market.

Check back with The Writing Well for more insights from my time at NASA Kennedy Space Center.

In Celebration of Space Storytellers

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Every Thursday in October The Writing Well will celebrate the storytelling journey of my clients and partners as part of a month-long observance of my firm’s 14-year anniversary.

Rich PhillipsToday, as the UN and 60 nations mark World Space Week, I caught up with Rich Phillips, president of Austin-based Phillips & Company, one of Texas’s top 10 PR firms that recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary. Rich marked the occasion last week with a leadership discussion with legendary CBS News anchor Dan Rather.

Rich and I collaborated for four years on brand leadership campaigns at EMS Technologies, an Atlanta-based space and asset tracking firm that has since been acquired by Honeywell.

I continued my work in the space industry writing for Via Satellite, covering everything from U.S. space policy to R&D priorities at NASA, while Rich has expanded his client focus to include NASA, where his firm is helping roll out the agency’s vision for Deep Space.

In May 2012, as SpaceX made history becoming the world’s first privately held company to send a cargo payload to the ISS, this blog featured Michael Potter, documentary filmmaker behind “Orphans of Apollo” in the most read blog post of 2012. His film chronicled the first entrepreneurial effort to privatize space by a group of entrepreneurs inspired by the Apollo missions.

It turns out Rich and I were both born in 1969, the year that America went to the moon.

“My first memory was being told, ‘Rich, you were born the year we landed on the moon,'” he recalls. “I carried that with me through grade school. I’d write about it in essays and would discuss it with my teachers — It was part of who I was. I still have commemorative coins given to me as a child from the moon landing.”

Below, Rich talks candidly about the formative role of space on his life and his journey as a storyteller for NASA, including his agency’s award-winning work on the “Get Curious” campaign that engaged thousands of people about the landing of the NASA Mars Science Laboratory rover on the Red Planet in August 2012.

Rich Phillips (front left) with his Austin team with one of the Get Curious campaign "rocks."

Rich Phillips (front left) with his Austin team with one of the Get Curious campaign “rocks.”

Q. Rich, what is it about the story of space that you find so fascinating?

Number one, I’m an economist. I had an epiphany back in 2007 when I was working with EMS Technologies, which does work in space communications and asset tracking for the military.  I woke up to this realization that space is not just a destination but a platform for applications and services just like the internet.

I was in business in the 90s when the internet boom happened. It was not until the cost of bandwidth – or the cost of transport — came down – that we had this explosion of applications and services from social media to eCommerce. I see space as bigger than that but I see the parallel.  As the cost of transporting satellites and people and other cargo in space comes down, there’s going to be an explosion of applications and services.  I’m excited because I see this opportunity for a whole new ‘other world’ economy.

Number two, I believe that exploration is critical to prosperity and human progress – that human space exploration inspires us to seek knowledge through scientific discovery and to advance the understanding of our world. It’s a catalyst for a better life – and I believe it will advance American leadership and help us to fundamentally create a path to peace, diplomacy and global cooperation. Historically, exploration has been critical to ensuring we prosper and that we progress as human beings. To say we will not explore the heavens is to say we will not progress as people.

Q. What stories of space first inspired you as a young person?

My whole identity has been tied to space.  It really has defined me.  I always believed life is short TheRightStuffand in order to achieve things, you have to take risks.  I think there is a little bit of an explorer in me. There were a couple of Hollywood films that were extraordinary — that touched me – “The Right Stuff” and “Apollo 13.”

Q. What can Hollywood teach the space community?

How to story tell. NASA spends most of its time convincing us of how safe they are – that they’ve ironed out all of the risk and that there is no chance that anything will go wrong. Fundamentally that’s a great engineering strategy but it’s a lousy marketing strategy because human beings actually gravitate toward stories of risk and hope. The truth is what NASA does is extraordinarily dangerous and extraordinarily risky.  To be successful at inspiring the American people, NASA and the entire space community has to be willing to say, “This is hard. This is risky.” They need to tell that dramatic story of what could go wrong — and by telling that honest story, Americans and the world will embrace it.

CuriousityQ. You put those storytelling principles to work last year on the “Get Curious” campaign with NASA JPL.  Can you tell me about it?

NASA JPL was brilliant in that they understood that in order to inspire people about the Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory landing, they needed to tell the story behind the landing. This wasn’t the first time we’ve been to Mars. Spirit and Opportunity had been there before. By creating a dramatic story line about how we were landing, my firm was able to design more than 50 global landing parties and events around the world, and in the process, we were able to reach people who typically didn’t follow space but who were now glued to their televisions as if we were landing a man or woman on Mars.

At the center of NASA JPL’s campaign was creating a video called “The Seven Minutes of Terror.”    The video told the story of this dramatic descent to Mars and how risky it was – how easily we could lose or destroy the rover, or even miss the planet if we didn’t do the right things. That video went viral and we were very proud to be part of the marketing of not only that video but also the landing. By telling a true story of drama and risk, we engaged people. People for the first time shared in the experience. That’s what storytelling does.   

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Connect with Rich via Twitter @PhillipsCompany or through his website. Read more about his firm’s “Get Curious” campaign, which just received the Association for Women in Communications’ Clarion Award. The campaign previously won awards from PRDaily and Bulldog Reporter.