The Kid Who is Single-Handedly Making NASA Cool Again: A Q+A

Given what it's got to promote, NASA sucks at marketing itself. If the space agency were a guy in your high school he’d be that awkward loner who everyone loves for doing awesome stuff like hacking the school’s website to post an impromptu snow day.

Jun 16 2011, 4:00am

Given what it's got to promote, NASA sucks at marketing itself. If the space agency were a guy in your high school he'd be that awkward loner who everyone loves for doing awesome stuff like hacking the school's website to post an impromptu snow day. But no one would ever want to date him. Then there's the military. That guy who drives a used Camaro and upper-decks toilets at parties, but for some reason every guy wants to be him. Why can't NASA come out of its shell and inspire young people the way the military does?

Well it turns out that NASA can't spend a penny of taxpayer dollars on advertising. In fact the military is the only government agency that is allowed to have ad campaigns. Fortunately one Canadian kid, Reid Gower, became so fed up with the under appreciation of NASA that he independently produced his own NASA ad campaign on YouTube. We were were rocked by his first advertisement that featured a tune from Justice, and illustrated how badass space exploration can be. His YouTube channel has gathered nearly 4,000 followers, and his videos have been viewed millions of times.

For his follow up, Reid went for a more solemn approach by producing "The Sagan Series" (see below). There is arguably no better spokesperson to beautifully articulate the achievements and questions of cosmic discovery then Carl Sagan. Pair him with some quality high-definition archival footage found on the Internet and reflective inspirational music, and you've got a more fantastic tribute to our space aspirations than NASA's giant marketing team could have imagined.

We tracked down Reid and asked him about his love for NASA, his video methods, and if he'd ever heard from anyone at NASA. (Kind of, but they never wrote back to him).

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I'm a 25 year old guy living in Victoria, Canada, who's recently taken time off from a philosophy undergrad. Philosophy can do that to you. Right now I'm sort of testing the waters to see if I can sort myself out doing something in the realm of science and online media. In all honesty, I'm just pursuing my interests right now and The Sagan Series just sort of happened. My general goal seems to be using media to promote scientific values, and I seem to be succeeding by having a rough idea of where scientific media and social media intersect.

What made you decide to start making these videos?
To answer that question I have to rewind things a bit. I haven't always been interested in science or philosophy. In fact, it's been a long road here. You could safely say that I hated science like most other students upon graduating high school. But then at around 20, I was exposed to a podcast called The Skeptics Guide to the Universe. For those that don't know, the SGU is a podcast that's dedicated to breaking down relevant science news in layman terms. They were the first to show me not just why science is interesting, but how it can be useful and even empowering. So much of contemporary science education focuses on large bodies of scientific facts, but rarely is there any effort to teach the beauty of science, it's structure, or what separates it from other tools of inquiry. For me, once the rough structure of scientific thought was understood, an appreciation for its derived facts followed seamlessly. Science is now a big part of my life.

Since I had no formal science education past high school, the bulk of my scientific knowledge came from books and media. Websites like Academic Earth, Khan Academy, and of course YouTube bring about some gems that can get lost in the internet's sea of cat videos. But that supply of videos quickly ran dry, and I was left with the dilemma of either scouring the internet for more or producing them myself. At around this time I was going through a space phase, and I stumbled across a Carl Sagan video by Michael Marantz. I found myself drawn to it, watching it almost every day for a few months. I wondered why wasn't there more media like it. Then I got the idea for the Sagan Series. I emailed Michael and asked for permission to use the audio from his original video, and we're off and running.

Can you describe you earliest memories of NASA, and how the agency has influenced our life? Did you want to be an astronaut?
I guess one of the points of associating these videos with NASA is that I actually had no NASA memories. I was born in 1986, so by the time I was old enough to understand what NASA did, the moon landings were already ancient history and a child like myself was left asking, "What have we done since then?" Of course, the work on the ISS, Hubble, and the Mars rovers, to name a few, have pushed the frontiers of our cosmological understanding. But as a teenager the extent of my exposure to some of these events could by aptly summarized by a single headline on the evening news. Consequently, I remained largely ignorant of NASA (and dare I say, its importance) until relatively recently. One of the reasons I made the Sagan Series was in hopes that others might come to the same realization I have.

As for the astronaut part, I think I speak on behalf of most Canadian males when I say that my only childhood dream job was to be the second coming of Wayne Gretzky.

Anyone from NASA ask for your help?
Nobody asked for my help but I did get some supportive messages from other NASA employees. I was actually kind of disappointed about that, even if it would've just been to entertain me. You would think that somebody would contact you if you made a video for their company and it reached over a million people. In the days following though, I was vainly searching on Google for blog articles about my video and I saw that Alan Ladwig (Deputy Associate Administrator for NASA Public Outreach) had left his email address in a comment box, encouraging me to contact him. I did, but never heard back.

But the messages that I did receive were overwhelmingly flattering, especially considering how much I look up to NASA engineers/employees in the first place.

How did you learn to make these videos?
Before making the Sagan Series, I had never video edited before. Because of that, I'd like to say I've just got an artistic knack for it but the truth is there's a lot of logic to the process, or at least my process. First of all, given the fact that I've devoured basically every last bit of scientific media available to me, I have a lot of experience simply as a viewer in knowing what works for me and what doesn't. So the first step was simply knowing what I enjoy, and looking for patterns in techniques to evoke those feelings. Secondly, I think I'm a far more critical media viewer than most people. I don't know how to substantiate that claim, but my analytic approach allowed me to hit the ground running with what not to do. One of my biggest pet peeves I've found in science/education media is how it's often edited with an action film style. The fast cuts, overuse of explosion sound effects, and typical overenthusiastic narratives should be insulting to anyone's intelligence.

What else are you working on, videowise?
I have big hopes for the next video in the Sagan Series, along with some other projects. But alas, the success of that video relies on having it spread all at once, so for now I'm keeping that a secret. You're interested now aren't you? You can't HELP yourself. Just become a Facebook fan of the Sagan Series already. I'll keep you up to date with future projects too.

Reid spent his sweet time finding HD videos to use. Pay the man some respect. Click full screen and let the video buffer.

Visit Reid's The Sagan Series.

Finally a Promo for NASA that Makes NASA Look Awesome