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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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  • This ain't MTV! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bziman ( 223162 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @11:59AM (#30563466) Homepage Journal
    I don't WANT NASA TV to appeal to the lowest common denominator. The Discovery Channel used to be educational... now it's "how can we use science to blow shit up?" MTV used to be music videos... now it's the Shiny Things Network(c). I tune to NASA TV when I actually want to see what's ACTUALLY going on, narrated by someone who actually has some idea of what they're talking about, without going through an "audience is retarded" filter. If you don't find it interesting, fine, wait a few days, and read the brain-dead version in one of the mass media outlets. CNN will be happy to distill six hours of interesting live coverage down to a 30 second clip that you can digest will drinking your Starbucks. NASA TV is what it is for a good reason. The cameras are always on, and when something interesting, but unexpected happens, you get to watch it unfold. Keep your Hollywood ideas off my Nerdovision.
  • Re:This ain't MTV! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Shadow of Eternity ( 795165 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @12:05PM (#30563508)

    There's a difference between turning NASA broadcasts into Spike TV with Space Capsules and actually trying to be a little less boring than going through airport security.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 27, 2009 @12:05PM (#30563512)

    Amen. It perfect they way it is.

    No need to go all weather channel and turn super lamo.

  • multiple feeds? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cashman73 ( 855518 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @12:27PM (#30563630) Journal
    The solution could actually be something like better incorporation of multiple feeds. I mean, they could spruce up the NASA TV cable network to make it a bit more appealing to the "brain dead crowd", while at the same time having the raw footage and all the good stuff (which, to non-Slashdotters, is ridiculously boring) on their website. This could probably work quite well for about a year or two under the right management, but unfortunately will inevitably be screwed up by Comcast, much in the same way that G4 screwed up TechTV.
  • Re:I watch NasaTV (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Jonathan McDowell ( 515872 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @12:29PM (#30563640) Homepage

    Exactly. Actually NASA TV has been dumbed down too much already compared to how it was in the late 1980s. The commentators speak over space-to-ground comms while repeating the same limited statistics
    they've said 5 times already. We're geeks, we want data, so give us some different numbers - delta-V of the latest burn, what's the airlock pressure now, not just the official
    landing time that the reporter was complaining about but the latitude and longitude of the landing site as well. That's the background info we need so we can go off and write the purple prose that Ferrell is looking for.

    Better yet, stream the raw MOCR console data to us so we can crunch the numbers ourselves :-)

    (Why yes, I am a scientist too. Why do you keep asking that?)

  • In fact... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 27, 2009 @12:48PM (#30563732)

    ...isn't NASA TV public domain like other NASA IP? If so, if some dude is unhappy about the broadcasts not being shiny enough, he can just make his own. Hell, if his opinion isn't utter bullshit, he can even profit from it! What is he waiting for?????

  • by PizzaAnalogyGuy ( 1684610 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @12:52PM (#30563766)
    Adding made-up controversy to a technical tv program would be like baking a pizza in a french fries deep-frier. Result might taste great, but the pizza just doesn't fit in it.

    This is why I like Man v. Food. No matter if you like sandwiches [], hot dogs [] or hamburgers [], I know there will never be anything as good food as hawaiian style pan pizza with barbeque sauce. But the show is entertaining, so I enjoy watching it, while knowing its not always technically correct.

    In Naples we used to have these pizza baking competitions between my father and his cousins place next to us. They would give slices of pizzas to everyone walking past and ask which one is better. This usually ended up with them yelling at each other in their white cooking dresses, but more people gathered around to watch what was going on and because it was entertaining, they ended up ordering pizzas too. Win win for all, except for me who had to serve them as a little boy while I would wanted to be playing soccer with my friends.
  • Re:Oh hell no. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Quantumstate ( 1295210 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @01:00PM (#30563820)

    When I was visited America I remember trying to watch an american football match replay/highlights. If I ignore the fact that it was 50% adverts cutting in every 3 minutes it was still utterly dreadful. It showed very short clips of bits of play so you had little idea of what was actually going on with some crazy overexcited presenter yelling for the entire thing. Baseball generally seemed much better, ignoring the advert breaks. In the UK, with a football (soccer) match, 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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 27, 2009 @01:14PM (#30563926)
  • Re:This ain't MTV! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dripdry ( 1062282 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @02:09PM (#30564264) Journal

    I've been watching NASA TV on and off since about 2000. I find the long silences to be Zen-like and relaxing. I can put it on as background in the evening, or while getting work done. Although the mission control screens and drives to recovery sites may be a bit tedious, there is something uniquely majestic about some of the long silences, especially the shots of space. It's the same way I like much of my music. Just because many people are used to action every 5 seconds in the media they consume doesn't mean that long bouts of calm punctuated with occasional fanfare is bad.

    Further to that point, it's more like real life. Media just edits out the boring parts of daily existence and puts up the interesting ones to entertain us. What's wrong with consuming something more realistic for a change? That used to be why I put the weather channel on when I wanted to relax. Now it's so wham-bam-OMG-STAY-INDOORS! that I can scarcely stand it for five minutes.

    In short, I advocate for a more relaxed media experience, but your mileage may vary.

  • Re:I watch NasaTV (Score:3, Interesting)

    by multisync ( 218450 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @02:19PM (#30564326) Journal

    Better yet, stream the raw MOCR console data to us so we can crunch the numbers ourselves :-)

    I can't find the link now, but I'm sure I remember downloading the Rover Sequence Editor and being able to see actual mission data with it. It was running on an old Mandriva box I don't have any more.

    Maybe I'm remembering it incorrectly, but it seems to me they provided access to the same data the scientists at JPL had, as well as the same client they were using. You could use that data and the Hyperdrive visualizer to create your own sequences of commands. I never invested the time to get beyond the basics with it, but it was a lot of fun.

  • Re:leave nasa alone (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SBFCOblivion ( 1041418 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @02:37PM (#30564436)
    Out of curiosity (honestly), what is wrong with pbs? The NOVA stuff is too similar to the other channels for you? Too dumbed down?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 27, 2009 @02:44PM (#30564478)

    If they really want to throw some of us dumb monkeys a bone, they could add some classical music [] for ambience instead of having dead silence on the audio. At least then it wouldn't seem as boring, and it necessarily wouldn't dumb things down for the smarter folks.

    It worked for Kubric, didn't it?

  • by Sleen ( 73855 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @02:56PM (#30564556)

    Remember, NASA is the Amtrak of space and they need to advertize objectives and constantly engage in consistent public communications to indicate money isn't being wasted. NASA does not generate revenue so take your pick- boy scouts in space doing favors, amtrak etc. Its a gov service that in principle is no different than how the US collects taxes, fights wars or delivers mail. Imagine the postal guys up there trying to turn a torx with fat frigid fingers in zero g. Or maybe some people from DMV to staff the mission control center. Sounds ridiculous, but the difference is merely training and certification. Why have postal guys or volunteers wage warfare? The gov becomes a service provider like any other, only as the default, a really bad one.

    The channel first of all doesn't always work. When there is some video it is a placeholder for activity. There is hardly any editing and summarization unless it supports something the agency needs to advertize. Its after all -


    Will you actually learn anything new from the video feed? I highly doubt it. Its a hose for space branding and a tit to keep TV culture complacent and uncritical.

    Should SpaceTV be entertaining? Should the news be entertaining? Maybe engaging and relevant is a better expectation. And NASA has always had problems in the relevancy department.

    But then there is the reality that space is actually not the interesting. After all, its just -

    -S P A C E-

    Once money wealth and freedom is possible for individuals up there, it will get interesting because then there will be individual superobjective in that context. There is none currently - its like watching the FBI surveil child porn. Protecting the nation - RIGHT - the only reason usenet still exists is so the FBI can swap pix.

    NASA definitely has zero g sex tapes - think we can tune into that? Or how about a webcam session in space where the gals face is all puffy from no gravity.

    What you get to see on NASA TV is what little they can air that does not make them look like fools. Where is FBI TV or CIA TV? Nowhere because it would only document their mistakes, incompetence and panic.

    Space shit on TV all got started with JFK and NASA is still entirely dependent on donations, public opinion and PITY. They don't produce anything and have never made a strong case for why people need to be in space that doesn't ultimately come from fear of other people.

  • Re:Budget, etc. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 27, 2009 @03:07PM (#30564622)

    NASA TV does A LOT more with that money than others do anyway. Most of the money is spent for *educational* programming that is geared towards kids science education. That programming tends to actually be quite good and entertaining, if I was a kid. Hell of a lot more interesting for an 8 year old than some of the shit on the other networks!

    Regarding "Breaking news" coverage, NASA's coverage is the best. Other networks have crap, mostly NASA feed for 30 seconds and 10 minutes of clap-trap action without any substance. NASA's coverage is top notch. I especially enjoy that commentators do not start talking about bullshit and repeating stuff over and over and over and over and over again and making up stories for "entertainment purposes". The role of the commentator is to relay news. If there is nothing going on, simple summary of current state every 10-15 minutes is more than enough. And that's only for the people that just tuned in.

    NASA TV has the *best* live coverage of events of any space agency. I still remember their coverage for Mars landers and the first signals that came back. Anticipation and exhilaration upon reception of the first transmission came through NASA TV. On the other networks, it was utter garbage. There was no anticipation - there was just voice of the commentators talking shit.

    so, LA Times,

            !!! LEAVE NASA TV ALONE !!!

  • by name_already_taken ( 540581 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @04:41PM (#30565340)

    I have ADD and NASA TV can capture my attention for hours.

    Then by definition, you do not have Attention Deficit Disorder.

    Perhaps you're just a hypochondriac. My father had an aunt who was really upset when the doctor told her that she didn't have Parkinson's disease. She'd convinced herself and gone around telling everyone for months that she had Parkinsons.

    NASA TV does have too much dead or near-dead time. They could be showing us something informative about the mission at least. I think the main problem is that they've basically given air time to great scientists, who have no idea what to do with it. It's the equivalent of watching the webcam that points at my work parking lot. Oh sure, it's exciting when the garbage truck shows up to empty the dumspter, or when the Fedex truck arrives, but there's a lot of wasted bandwidth.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 27, 2009 @04:59PM (#30565486)
    I noted the difference in narration on Planet Earth between the North American version (voiced by Sigourney Weaver) and the UK edition by Attenborough. While Weaver did a really good job, I found watching the UK edition somehow more "soothing to the ear".
  • Re:This ain't MTV! (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 27, 2009 @05:10PM (#30565556)

    Just because many people are used to action every 5 seconds in the media they consume doesn't mean that long bouts of calm punctuated with occasional fanfare is bad.

    Yes it does. Ignoring the adaptation to the faster media, there is the obvious problem that media exists to inform or entertain. Watching the scenery for a prolonged period does neither.

    I can put it on as background in the evening, or while getting work done.

    Wow, and you don't see the problem here? If I locked you in a room with that was completely empty except for a TV running NASA TV, would you be entertained by it? Some, most I would wager, people prefer to treat the TV as a task that they sit and watch until they're done then do something else, I know I do. Having the TV substitute for a radio with pictures isn't appealing to people who are just trying to kill some time or just want it to get to the point so they can go do something else.

    Of course, I won't criticise someone for trying new formats for TV shows (Some innovation is desperately needed in that arena) but that is not what NASA is doing, they just don't care.

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

    by node 3 ( 115640 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @06:02PM (#30565928)

    People simply aren't interested in seeing every step of a recovery process with nothing else.

    Then I guess I'm not a person? I'm not going to tune in to every second of every mission or anything, but it's interesting to watch what's going on. What's *really* going on, and not just the TL;DW version.

    There already exists outlets for "less boring" NASA TV.

    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.

    OH HELL NO! There's nothing I can stand *LESS* on TV than when commentators talk all over something that's going on. The opening ceremonies of the summer Olympics is a prime example. I want to watch the event as an audience member would, as the director (or whatever) designed it. I don't need to know that the digital rice paper screen is made up of ten trillion LEDs, or (even worse) that Athens is named after the "Patron Saint" (serious) Athena.

    Now, for the many minutes leading up to some big event (Mars rovers, Moon impact, etc), they *DO* have a panel of "experts" (they're called scientists. "expert" is a cable news euphemism for "someone with a strong opinion that we paid to argue with someone with an *almost* equally strong, but opposite opinion than the opinion we wish to instill") who discuss the science of the current mission.

    NASA TV is like C-SPAN, or PBS. It's not meant to bring in money or appeal to the lowest common denominator (which is what "the broadest audience" really means). There's already CNN et al for people who'd find C-SPAN boring, and broadcast TV for those who aren't interested by PBS. NASA TV has Discovery, The Science Channel, CNN etc. for news events, and so on.

  • Re:This ain't MTV! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by nailBnny ( 539103 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @07:07PM (#30566390)
    I do not want "action every 5 seconds". My addiction is information. Tell me everything and I will tune in and out as needed.

"Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." -- Will Rogers