National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
NASA is best known for its manned space programs: The shuttle and the space station, a partnership between the United States, the Russians and 14 other nations which has hosted people continuously since November 2000. But its influence extends to many aspects of research and development, from earth science to aviation. The shuttle is due to be phased out in 2010. NASA is gearing up for its next big venture - sending astronauts to the moon in 2020 to build a sustainable long-term presence there. There are also plans to send astronauts to Mars by the year 2040.
The agency also has a geographical reach, thanks to its long history of political involvement. While NASA's headquarters is in Washington, it has 10 field centers in eight states. Its close relationship with the aerospace industry, and huge army of contractors – not to mention its cadre of protective lawmakers – mean you can probably find a connection to NASA somewhere in your state.
300 E St. SW,
Good story ideas include following some of the groundbreaking science being done by the agency, profiling astronauts from your area and tracking the fortunes of firms that have NASA contracts. The agency also has extensive relationships with colleges and universities across the country, and is pushing a new education initiative aimed at promoting science and math among K-12 students. In early 2003, NASA announced the "educator astronaut" program, and after the shuttles' return to space, Barbara Morgan, a former Utah teacher who was Christa McAuliffe's backup, is scheduled for a flight.
For regional reporters, the best stories to come out of NASA's space missions may focus on local businesses that have won a contract to supply the agency with a part. Another NASA focus for the regional reporter may be the space agency's sizable earth science research efforts. From space, NASA satellites have a unique vantage point to examine regional concerns like drought, wildfires or disease.
The Earth Observatory, online at http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov, offers a number of databases that can help you track changes over time. Doing a story on your area's drought? NASA data can show you how rainfall patterns have changed between 1979 and 2001. Working on a weekender on air pollution? Create a computer animation that can show you how the amount of ozone in the air has increased since the 1970s. The site's only drawback is that data is only available on a global level.
The largest and most important Field Center, Johnson Space Center in Houston, leads the NASA's effort in human space exploration. It's where Mission Control is located and where astronauts train and live.
Kennedy Space Center, in Cape Canaveral, Fla., is probably the best known NASA center. Every manned NASA mission, from Mercury to Apollo to the shuttle, has launched from the pads here. So have most unmanned flights. Cape Canveral Air Force Station, adjacent to KSC, technically belongs to the Air Force, and it's where military missions blast off.
Two other centers have a direct hand in manned space flight: Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., is where all of the rocket propulsion systems are managed. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, tests large-scale engines.
Then there are the research centers. Ames Research Center, at Moffett Field in California, conducts critical research and develops technologies essential to NASA missions. The Dryden Flight Research Center, next to Edwards Air Force Base in California, and Langley Research Center, in Hampton, Va., do aviation and aeronautics research.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, Calif., is where many of NASA's robotic missions are planned and the spacecraft built. Glenn Research Center in Cleveland does work for several divisions of the agency.
Goddard Space Flight Center, just up the road from Washington in Greenbelt, oversees most of NASA's earth and space science efforts. For example, the Hubble Space Telescope, an orbiting telescope that constantly beams back information that astounds scientists, is run out of Goddard. It's a neat place to tour.
Congressional Committees and Lobbyists
The space program inspires a fierce sense of protectiveness, if not great passion, from an assortment of lawmakers. Senators from Florida, Texas and California are particularly sensitive to all things involving NASA; on the House side, your best bet is to look for members who have a center or a major aerospace contractor in or near their district.
The House Science Committee, particularly the space subcommittee, and Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee oversee NASA. The relevant Appropriations subcommittee is VA, HUD and Independent Agencies. The NASA budget is usually stuffed full of pork, benefiting nearly every state, and is a good place to find stories.
The two biggest contractors are Lockheed Martin and Boeing; United Space Alliance, a joint venture of the two firms, oversees most of the space shuttle operations. It's unclear yet what role, if any, United Space Alliance will have in the new mission to the moon. Lockheed Martin and Boeing both have powerful lobbyists in Washington. Alexis Allen of the Aerospace Industries Association, is the best person to call, 703-358-1075, email@example.com.
Because of NASA's limited budget and past fiscal problems, the agency is a favorite target of the General Accounting Office, which always places it on the list of "high-risk" agencies. Christina Chaplain follows NASA issues and can be reached at 202-512-4841, firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of the most important elements of writing about the space program is perspective – NASA is steeped in history and there are a number of good analysts and historians you can turn to when the agency makes news. Among the best:
Howard McCurdy, a public affairs professor at American University, has written several books about the space program. His number is 202-885-6236. Call Media Relations to request an interview, 202-885-5950.
Scott Pace, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, is a former NASA administrator. His number is 202-994-7292.
John Pike, a former analyst for the Federation of American Scientists who is now the director of GlobalSecurity.org, a policy research organization, is a colorful commentator on NASA. He's at 703-548-2700.
Some other good websites, besides nasa.gov:
http://www.spaceflight.nasa.gov (information on shuttle and station programs, including mission press kits and astronaut biographies)
http://www.space.com (a commercial web site loaded with news)
http://www.spacetoday.net (a ompilation of news articles)
http://www.spaceref.com (news and opinion, as well as a good calendar of meetings and events)
http://www.nasawatch.com (a "watchdog" site run by a former NASA engineer)
Does this agency's information need updating? email@example.com
NASA has a huge public-affairs operation, both at headquarters and at the centers. All have email distribution lists that will provide you with more press releases than you ever wanted.
The best place to start, though, is headquarters, and the main web site, www.nasa.gov.
It includes a reference page for media, http://www.nasa.gov/formedia.
The main number for the newsroom there is 202-358-1600. Even if you have no idea whom you should talk to or which center to call, the newsroom folks can point you in the right direction. The building itself is at 300 E St. SW, between the L'Enfant Plaza and Federal Center SW Metro stations.
Main newsroom 202-358-1600.
Michael Cabbage, director of media services
David Steitz, deputy director of media services
find additional media contacts listed by subject area at http://www.nasa.gov/news/media/contacts/
Johnson Space Center newsroom 281-483-5111 firstname.lastname@example.org
James Hartsfield, news chief
Kyle Herring, public affairs specialist
Kennedy Space Center newsroom 321-867-2468
Allard Beutel, news chief
Marshall Space Center newsroom 256-544-0034
June Malone, news chief
Goddard Space Center newsroom 301-286-8955
Ed Campion, news chief