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NASA Television

Critics Call For NASA TV To "Liven Up" 305

An article in the LA Times calls NASA out for failing to make broadcasts on their dedicated television network as entertaining as they can be. The author, David Ferrell, complains that fascinating subject matter is often fraught with boring commentary and frequent, extended silences, making most people quickly lose interest. Quoting: "Witness one recent segment about the recovery of a Soyuz capsule upon its return to Earth. The dark, bullet-like object landed in the featureless steppes of Kazakhstan, about 50 miles outside the unheard-of town of Arkalyk. Coverage consisted of video shot from an all-terrain vehicle approaching it — mostly soundless footage of tall grass going by — with an occasional word by an unnamed commentator. 'You can see the antenna that deployed shortly after landing,' the commentator said in that deadpan tone shared by scientists and golf announcers. The camera chronicled the tedious extraction of three crew members weakened by spending six months in orbit; they were loaded one by one onto stretchers. 'Again, a rather methodical process,' the commentator noted, as if grasping for something — anything — to say. Later: 'The official landing time has been revised to 1:15 and 34 seconds a.m., Central Time. The official time was recorded at the Russian Mission Control Center . . . by the Russian flight-control team.' ... Where is Carl Sagan when you need him?"
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Critics Call For NASA TV To "Liven Up"

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  • by Gordonjcp ( 186804 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @11:54AM (#30563440) Homepage

    ... just watch a weather report on American TV. "ZOMG IT'S THE BIG ONE EVERYBODY RUN FOR COVER WINDS WILL REACH 50MPH IN PLACES!" and so on. We don't need it, thanks.

    Watch one of David Attenborough's natural history programmes. Get your ideas from that.

  • by BadAnalogyGuy ( 945258 ) <> on Sunday December 27, 2009 @11:59AM (#30563464)

    They should introduce a controversial character into the mix. Maybe have a mouthy Russian hang out with the straitlaced American scientists. Or a breakout character like Puck to pull everyone's strings to the breaking point.

    Or they could introduce some kind of challenge that the characters have to overcome. See which astronaut can escape fastest from a burning capsule. Or who can eat the most astronaut food without getting sick.

    Science TV is the ultimate reality TV.

    Or we can read this article as an indictment of the lack of attention span of the average American TV viewer.

  • by Low Ranked Craig ( 1327799 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @12:00PM (#30563468)

    No, thanks.

    I already fell like I'm living inside "Idocracy" when I happen to see any given network news show.

  • by Eravnrekaree ( 467752 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @12:01PM (#30563476)

    I like NASA TV the way it is. If you have ADD and need constant sound effects and graphics or everything dumbed down and edited into some fake reality, filled with game shows and so on, then channels like Discovery are for you. I like NASA because of its raw unedited nature and it is more of a direct access thing to NASA data rather than another discovery network. Do I want NASA TV to be another heavily commercialised pop culture discovery channel for people who have short attention spans and few brain cells? No.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 27, 2009 @12:04PM (#30563506)

    I hate it when they something completely uninteresting while something interesting is being talked about in the background.

  • Oh hell no. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mononoke ( 88668 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @12:05PM (#30563510) Homepage Journal
    This critic is the type of person who has destroyed entertainment in general. Sports have become nearly unwatchable with the announcers straining to fill every millisecond with the sound of their voices. Movies are becoming overloaded with audio cues and monologues. Even the news has become a cacophony of zings and bleeps and sweeping noises.

    In music, the rests are as important as the notes. This is true elsewhere as well. I hope the people at NASA understand this and keep things the way they are.

  • leave nasa alone (Score:4, Insightful)

    by p51d007 ( 656414 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @12:17PM (#30563566)
    PLEASE don't turn NASA TV into cnn/abc/cbs/fox/pbs etc... I watch the nasa tv channel when something is going on for the opposite reason. THEY SHUT THE F*CK UP! Their comments are only when the ground to space loop is QUIET. They don't talk over the controllers or astronauts. The other "talking heads" think they have to blab 24/7. If I wanted that crap, I'd watch the regular channels.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 27, 2009 @12:31PM (#30563648)

    Whenever ESA gets around to streaming something live, it's usually some old guys in suits congratulating themselves of a project that went well. No engineers to tell about the technical problems, no scientists to tell what to expect, and absolutely not a single live image coming straight off the probe or lander.

    If they were to get actual scientific or other interesting data, they'll never show it online. They just say "We got first pictures and they're very nice." ARGH.

    (For the record: I like NASA TV as it is; I'll rather take boring and accurate than shiny and wrong)

  • Re:multiple feeds? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @12:38PM (#30563684) Homepage
    Nope. The 'brain dead crowd' has quite enough of their own channels. Give us folks who have yet to flat line at least ONE channel. It's not too much to ask since we, on the average, pay most of the damned taxes anyway.
  • by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @12:44PM (#30563716)


    He didn't die, he experienced a phase transition and is now at a higher entropy level.

  • mission control (Score:5, Insightful)

    by binarybum ( 468664 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @12:50PM (#30563752) Homepage

    i think they should use the mission control channel on somafm as background music throughout the day.

  • by LittleRedStar ( 723170 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @01:01PM (#30563826)
    Absolutely agree! Earlier this year I spent hours each day watching the live feed from Hubble repair mission. The occasional info from the 'commentator' was enough. What would be interesting is to have less restrained astronauts. An occasional oh shit! as a wrench flies away would liven things up.
  • Re:This ain't MTV! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DavidTC ( 10147 ) <slas45dxsvadiv.v ... minus city> on Sunday December 27, 2009 @01:03PM (#30563858) Homepage


    Seriously, long boring drives to recovery sites, and dead silence?

    Don't they have some, I dunno, science they could be telling us? Like a clip of the launch, or an explanation of the mission, or simulations of the orbit, or something?

    People simply aren't interested in seeing every step of a recovery process with nothing else. That is because it is incredibly boring, and, no, that has nothing to do with modern society's short attention span or anything. That much time watching nothing happen, interspersed with short, boring comments, is boring to anyone!

    At the very least, do what CNN does when they're waiting for stuff to happen on camera, like someone to come out of a courthouse...have a bunch of random 'experts' sitting around a table in the studio, and cut to them for a few minutes at a time, and back when things actually happen.

    Although really NASA should be able to time things better than that. Their uncertainly is usually only a few seconds, except sometimes during launches.

  • Tell a story (Score:2, Insightful)

    by minstrelmike ( 1602771 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @01:08PM (#30563888)
    People listen to stories because they entertain in some fashion. NASA and most scientists do not know how to tell a story and even "think" to themselves that a story is fictional or that if it becomes popular, it will lose some cachet.

    Perhaps, but politicians know that they can't get funding for stuff that doesn't tell a good story. Any hack ad writer could have written a 2-page in-depth personal profile on what it feels like to return to Earth and have to be carried off in a stretcher. It would demonstrate heroism and stoicism and the dangers and excitement of space and of research in general.

    I wonder how those teams competing for X-prizes pitch their idea to venture capitalists (spend 10 million to make 1 million ain't gonna work).
  • by pz ( 113803 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @01:16PM (#30563938) Journal

    I like NASA TV the way it is. If you have ADD and need constant sound effects and graphics or everything dumbed down and edited into some fake reality, filled with game shows and so on, then channels like Discovery are for you. I like NASA because of its raw unedited nature and it is more of a direct access thing to NASA data rather than another discovery network. Do I want NASA TV to be another heavily commercialised pop culture discovery channel for people who have short attention spans and few brain cells? No.

    Moreover, anything that is funded with the public's taxes should be raw, unvarnished truth. No salesmanship. No splashy effects. Just high-quality information, and, potentially, art.

    As an educated, voting taxpayer, I *love* that C-SPAN has the uncensored coverage of our congress (at least it used to last time I watched); I *adore* that PBS produces commercial-free high-quality educational and entertainment shows like NOVA (what we were promised TLC would expertly take over and provide), Nature, Sesame Street, and Frontline. It is *imperative* that NASA TV be boring, because most of a mission is like that.

  • by tjstork ( 137384 ) <> on Sunday December 27, 2009 @01:22PM (#30563982) Homepage Journal

    There is an annoying thing in American media that every second has to have some sort of sound in it. Really, its almost like welfare for sound people that work in media. But honestly, I like that NASA TV goes for long stretches of silence. I don't want talking heads jabbering on about stupid shit. If I want people jabbering and pontificating about stupid shit, I'll just jack into slashdot, and that way I can be one of them.

  • Re:Oh hell no. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Mikkeles ( 698461 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @01:26PM (#30564010)

    It started with the Greek chorus, made a giant leap forward with the pianist at a silent film, reached its nadir with sitcom laugh tracks, and then managed, unbelievably, to descend even lower with sports announcers and television commentators!

  • by datadigit ( 1561281 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @01:52PM (#30564142)
    Why is everyone on here assuming that making the broadcasts 'better' 'spruced up' and 'more interesting' equates to them being dumbed down? This is an incorrect gross generalization.

    I don't think anyone is suggesting that NASA TV turns into the Discovery Channel 'hey I wonder how big of an explosion we can make with all that liquid h2 and o2'.

    Anyone who thinks that the current version of NASA TV is utilizing resources to the best of their ability is sorely out of touch. There is plenty they could do to make these broadcast a lot more appealing to a wider audience whilst also enhancing their scientific and educational content.

    If you just want to listen to the bare minimum commentary video feed only broadcast I'm sure they can still make this available.
  • Boring?? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 27, 2009 @01:56PM (#30564176)

    Watching humans explore outer space as it happens live is boring but watching humans fight to move a ball up and down a field to some artificial goal is supposed to be exciting? I don't think so.

  • Re:Budget, etc. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pclminion ( 145572 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @02:03PM (#30564228)
    Yes, what the hell happened to Discovery anyway? Actually, I'm just being rhetorical, it's fairly obvious what happened, and it took several sad years. Watching Discovery turn to shit was like watching a relative die of cancer. The only people left worth watching are Jamie, Adam, and Mike Rowe (Mike Rowe, by the way, should be given a fucking medal and a gigantic bronze statue for the comments he makes about safety fascism in modern America). If these guys had the guts they should start their own channel and give Discovery the big fat finger.
  • Re:This ain't MTV! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 27, 2009 @02:04PM (#30564232)
    The guy from dirty jobs at TED: []
  • by yerktoader ( 413167 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @02:22PM (#30564364) Homepage
    But I certainly agree it does not need "EXTRA BIG ASS FRIES". Enthusiasm and fun != "Tomorrow's Rehabilitation promises to be even more better!" For proof, watch Alain De Cadenet [] on Victory By Design [] which has a great level of information and entertainment. And while the cars are loud the sequences of him driving are only interrupted by him speaking on occasion with enthusiasm for the car, giving that feeling of negative space in which you are left to drink in a relative silence and just enjoy what's happening on screen.

    The Secret Life of Machines [] is another great example of how a science and history show can be entertaining without having the endless commentary such as is seen with news casters and sports commentators.

    I don't think anyone wants to see NASA TV turn into TLC or G4, but watching an hour of mostly silent footage of satellite maintenance is like having conversation with an Ent. Let's keep in mind that the latest Star Trek was pretty well received, so it is not impossible to add a bunch of explosions and still be relevant and good.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that many people simply don't have the time to watch an hour of mostly silent satellite maintenance. It's like the frustration I feel when I talk about music to people who have never been exposed to music outside of corporate owned radio station, MTv, movies and Target. It's incredibly frustrating, and while you might feel like these people have chosen to ignore what else is out there - and to be sure, many folks want the Clear Channels of the world to decide what they listen to - the fact remains that most of these people have jobs and families, and simply cannot spend their time digging for new things to be interested in. And considering the state NASA is in with budgets and such, it might just be useful and profitable to attract people to space programming like back in the 50's and 60's.

    Is a happy medium too much to ask?
  • by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @02:24PM (#30564370)

    There is an annoying thing in American media that every second has to have some sort of sound in it. Really, its almost like welfare for sound people that work in media. But honestly, I like that NASA TV goes for long stretches of silence. I don't want talking heads jabbering on about stupid shit. If I want people jabbering and pontificating about stupid shit, I'll just jack into slashdot, and that way I can be one of them.

    You are laboring under the delusion that most broadcasting aims to communicate information. It may do that, but that's not the goal. The goal is to distract you from the dullness of that room you're sitting in. The one with the glowing rectangle and the odd smells. It's there to placate you and entertain you, blinding you to the fact that most of us will waste the forty-odd years of our life working jobs that contribute little or nothing to the betterment of others or the world, that for all those years of work we have a couch, a few trinkets, in some suburban house, while the next generation struggles with answering how they can make a difference -- something that recurs generation after generation, only to perish because society has no real use for it. Television in today's society serves the same purpose that alcohol and recreational drugs serve: To make the pain of mere existance a little more bearable.

    The problem isn't that television rots your brain -- the problem is you, like a lot of people on slashdot, have an odd quirk of personality in that novelty is stimulating. For most people, routine is what refreshes and prepares them for the uncertainties, which is the exact opposite of how we interact with the world.

  • by RevWaldo ( 1186281 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @02:36PM (#30564434)
    I don't know what's worse:
    - mission specialists trying to be whimsical (Oooo you brought a Buzz Lightyear action figure up with you to the ISS - that's so funny! That only costs, what, $500 in rocket fuel?)
    - fifth-rate commentator/comedian/tv personality types interviewing NASA personnel and defense/space contractors and trying to make relevant jokes ("Boy, I bet you'd have no trouble putting the star on the Christmas tree with that robotic arm, huh?")
    - computer-animated "music videos" showing the magic of space.
    Etc. etc. etc.
    Stick with the science folks. Remember - If you don't have a sense of humor, don't try to be funny!
  • by xmundt ( 415364 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @02:42PM (#30564462) do realize that a "kaboom" requires and atmosphere?
    and the fact there was no huge plume visible might have been an indication that
    the composition of the ground was not what they expected.

    Real science is not like "CSI". it is not fast paced, and the excitement of a breakthrough
    in knowledge is usually restrained.

    I think the NASA coverage of the missions is quite qood...I do like to see the reality
    of it and not have some breathless announcer trying to jazz it up.
    dave mundt

  • Re:This ain't MTV! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Blakey Rat ( 99501 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @03:34PM (#30564754)

    Yes. There is absolutely nothing in-between boring as watching paint dry, and Spite TV. I'm glad you're able to so succinctly summarize our black-and-white world for us.

  • Re:Oh hell no. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> on Sunday December 27, 2009 @03:36PM (#30564764) Homepage

    even if it is on a channel with advertising you only get adverts at half time and before and after the match so there are two 45 minute blocks of uninterrupted football with decent commentators in general.

    The down side is you're forced to watch 45 uninterrupted minutes of European football, which is probably the only sport more boring than baseball.

    I find that baseball is like NASA TV, unless you're educated and understand what you're watching - you'll find it boring.

  • by tjstork ( 137384 ) <> on Sunday December 27, 2009 @05:41PM (#30565792) Homepage Journal

    You are laboring under the delusion that most broadcasting aims to communicate information..........

    I think you probably could have summed up the entire thing you wrote as "The media is entertainment, not information."

  • Re:This ain't MTV! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by darthwader ( 130012 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @06:09PM (#30565998) Homepage

    You don't need to be spoon-fed your entertainment. If the people on NASA TV are spending 10 minutes driving out to the recovery site, then you can spend 9 minutes washing some dishes, or reading a few pages of your book, or whittling a solid-rocket booster for the shuttle model you are carving. Then look up at the screen every few minutes to see if you've missed anything.

    When they do finally start talking again, you can start paying attention again, because now you know something has happened.

    If they go the CNN "round table" route (a bunch of idiots speaking just to fill in the silence), you never know what is worth listening to, and what is just filler.

  • by node 3 ( 115640 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @06:11PM (#30566016)

    The thing that's really awful about such sensationalism in science (especially *space* science) is that the thing they are showing you is *FREAKING OUTER SPACE*. It's already more amazing than pretty much anything a person can say about it. Give us facts, your hyperbole will just pale in comparison. I don't mean it has to be boring, Sagan did a great job of conveying the wonder of science without resorting to idiocracy-level commentary.

    The same goes for NASA TV. I don't need some entertainer-posing-as-commentator talking about what's going on every second of a launch or whatever. I'm *WATCHING A SPACESHIP FLY INTO SPACE*. The current level of commentary is about right. There's the audio from mission control ("secondary boosters nominal<chirp>"), and countdowns, then commentary for specific portions of the event, "the rocket has reached escape velocity, and the second stage of the rocket will detach in about 90 seconds. We are 127 seconds into the flight, and the rocket is 192 miles above the Earth." Then silence for ~75 seconds until, "second stage detach in 10 seconds. 10... 9..." you get the idea.

  • by Eravnrekaree ( 467752 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @06:35PM (#30566176)

    I second that. I like the raw unfiltered nature of those things and the educational nature of PBS. PBS programs do use sound and graphics in their programs to make a presentation but they do so in a way not to make it pop culturish and still convey powerful information. One of the favourite things i like about C-SPAN is the call in segements, which unlike CNN and so on which are heavily scripted and fox etc which are blatantly biased, one gets to hear different sides of the issue from real, common people rather than media spin masters. CSPAN does a wonderful job of presenting unedited data and as well allowing for public commentary, nearly missing in the mainstream coverage, which tries to put everything into a manipulated edited package as if to slant peoples perspective on things.

  • Re:This ain't MTV! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dangitman ( 862676 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @07:50PM (#30566676)

    Does anyone else turn off the TV when they hear that (hopefully) temporary replacement for Kari on Mythbusters?

    She's not going to be temporary. Even if Kari does come back from maternity leave, that annoyingly shrill little blonde is going to remain as a sidekick. I have complete confidence in this prediction.

  • Re:This ain't MTV! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dripdry ( 1062282 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @08:56PM (#30567150) Journal

    I understand your point point of view and respect it. However, I have a habit of taking a more traditionally eastern point of view with some things like this. One might argue that one's mind is the most important pastime or tool, and having "settings" as a sort of canvas on which to paint a clearer path to a clearer mind may offer more importance than having ideas pumped in without the need for thought.

    Yes, I can say that just my mind, a blank room, and NASA TV would be quite enjoyable sometimes(with a pillow to sit on, if you please). I may even turn the TV off just to be still.

    NASA TV has been around for a long time, longer than the "new" formats of TV you mention. Although they may not care, as you said, sometimes a hands-off approach is more important and allows the recipient to drive their mind and own their thoughts.

    Again, mine is just one point of view, and I also respect your utilitarian pragmatism, however I have met successful, happy people who fall all along this spectrum of thought and urge mere consideration of other points of view in light of that.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 27, 2009 @11:01PM (#30567906)

    I'm sorry, I have ADD too and I love NASA TV. I think maybe rather than "not having ADD" what might be occurring is that we're FINALLY presented with enough information to occupy our attention rather than being boring and causing it to jump around back and forth.

    I'd ask you to consider that if YOU find it filled with dead time, to try using your brain and THINKING about what you're watching. A good portion of what NASA does it built upon the unbridled imagination of intelligent people thinking of new ways to accomplish something. To do this, you need time for your brain to work, rather than being spoon-fed with what someone else thinks will be entertaining to you.

    What you experience in life is what you make of it. You'll learn exactly as much as you try to learn, and if you don't try to learn something, it's a good bet that you won't. That isn't a failing of NASA TV, that's a personal failing of yourself. I don't mean that offensively, just trying to give you something to consider.

    As an example, try this one:

    Person A meets person B for the first time and wants to know more about person B's life. Person A asks person B what it's like where they live.

    Person B replies and says what the weather there is like, and what kinds of trees and things are there.

    Person A is disappointed because they were more interested in what it's like living where person B lives and this isn't what person B described in their answer.

    Person A can be upset that their question wasn't answered, much like the LA Times article complaining that NASA TV could be more exciting.

    Or person A could take my approach and engage their mind as a way of GETTING the answer they wanted from person B. The overarching point was to learn more about person B, with a secondary goal of learning about where person B lives. So take person B's answer as an answer to person A's question. Person A now knows that person B is the kind of person who, based on what they know about person A, believes that their answer is what someone like person A would like to know about. Person A also knows that person B may find the weather and trees and things more interesting or important than the personalities of the people where they live, or that they may not care about the same things as person A does, or perhaps there isn't the vibrant social life going on where person B lives that person A might've expected there to be.

    Even though the answer was not the answer person A was looking for, it is still loaded with information, if person A would just take the interest in extracting and using that information.

    So if you find NASA TV boring the way it is, consider that it's because you aren't paying enough attention to the information they're providing, or that you simply don't know what to DO with that information.

    Using the recovery coverage as an example, loads of time spent trundling through the grass in an ATV, sure... it's not space coverage that you may have been looking for, but you can learn something about the grass where the recovery is taking place, or the clouds and potentially weather patterns, or any of a countless number of other things. You just have to be willing to use it and learn from it instead of stomping around in a tantrum (I'm exaggerating... maybe I'm trying to make my post more "entertaining" or "dramatic") because it wasn't what you hoped for.

  • by joggle ( 594025 ) on Monday December 28, 2009 @03:56AM (#30569046) Homepage Journal

    Have you watched NASA TV when they aren't launching?

    I've watched it at various times, including when the Sojourner rover landed at some early hour of the night, when Cassini entered orbit around Saturn, portions of several space walks, and even idle times during shuttle missions. Some things have been very fun and exciting, such as the Sojourner landing, but by and large it's dreadfully boring even for an avid NASA/aerospace fan, especially during large portions of space walks (which is just inherent to the careful and tedious activity they're doing).

    While watching the activity live is a great option, they could really use some MythBusters style time lapse editing more often than not.

    They don't need to blow things up all the time like MythBusters, but they are in sore need of post-editing of the live video in order to present it in a way that is more accessible to an average viewer and can skip the less interesting parts (such as the 10-20 minutes it takes to move the shuttle's robotic arm, or the slow work of the astronaut, etc).

    NASA tries to do outreach and has a budget for it, although I'm sure it's rather small. I'm sure if they could just do more professional programs on NASA TV rather than relying so heavily on raw live footage they could get a lot more people excited about space science.

  • by soupforare ( 542403 ) on Monday December 28, 2009 @03:30PM (#30574560)

    PBS is slowly becoming as bad as Discovery/History.
    Nova/The News Hour/Frontline is only a few hours a week. The whole of the rest of the scheduling can be pretty grating sometimes. My local station, WGBH, is considered one of the best ones and it's been showing just horrid, infomercial-style lectures on both WGBH-2 and WGBX-44. WGBX-44.4 seems like the Alan Alda channel.
    Maybe I'm just hitting it at the wrong times but I can only take so much Antiques Roadshow, concert repeats and whatever else. As far as the newer stuff, I actually don't mind Nova Science Now, feels like Prof. Kaku's Science Fantastic, if a little more mainstream. I don't like its short radio sister, though, that's far too watered down.

When you are working hard, get up and retch every so often.