The shuttle may be grounded, but NASA's relevance lives on
By Greg Pellegrino - September 23, 2011
On Thursday 21 July the space shuttle Atlantis safely landed at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida—and so ended a 30-year window into the wonders of space for thousands of technophiles throughout the world.
But with NASA’s whole-hearted embrace of social media, the journey may not be over by a long shot. Yes, the future of U.S. manned space missions remains uncertain. But for those who follow NASA on Twitter—and have been lucky enough to be a part of NASA’s recent in-person “tweetups”—the agency’s use of social media presents a whole new way to access the inner world of space exploration—and create a new generation of space enthusiasts.
NASA currently administers over 100 Twitter accounts. Last year, it updated its iPhone application with new connections to social media sites and access to more than 125,000 photos from its image collection. And by a wide margin, NASA placed first in a recent study that ranked 100 public sector organizations in the effectiveness of their websites, digital outreach, social media use, and mobile sites.
But what could possibly be the significance of an astronaut tweeting from outer space (except that it’s really cool)? It all comes down to access.
“The biggest benefit of social media, in general, is that it cracks open the castle door,” says NASA Outreach Program Manager Beth Beck. “Social media allows us to share and others to share with us. But it’s more than two-way. It’s a multiplier effect. People share with people who share with people.”
As NASA plans its next bold move into outer space other governments and agencies should learn from its leadership. And not only in terms of social media—but also with cyber security. The fifth domain is not a new frontier—not anymore—but clearly there needs to be a more proactive approach. And while comprehensive legislation is still being hashed out by governments—NASA has been actively pursuing cyber security both in terms of new strategies and training. Its recently opened Security Operations Center is a state-of-the-art cyber security organization that detects all manner of security breaches across its more than 100,000 devices and users. NASA has worked with a variety of agencies to develop top-notch systems for the SOC, including the FBI and Counterintelligence.
NASA is also taking a leading role in training cyber professionals: by some estimates, the U.S. government alone needs up to 30,000 cyber security professionals, with not nearly enough available. The nonprofit Global Institute for Cybersecurity and Research, launched in August 2010, draws on the best minds and technologies the space program has to offer and applies them to cyber security. The GICSR helps NASA workers from the space shuttle program transition to a career in cyber security, capitalizing on their unique skills and experience.
Cyber security is a natural extension of NASA’s mission. NASA has a long history of working with agencies and governments throughout the world to coordinate activities in space—and can lead the way in the cooperation that is necessary among nations to build global cyber security controls. Its innovative application of technology is also critical to meeting cyber security demands right now. The contributions NASA can make to this field might very well be one of its most meaningful legacies yet.
NASA’s importance will not end with the shuttle program. Its continual innovation, ability to capitalize on new technologies, and efforts to redeploy resources to meet cutting-edge challenges will keep it relevant now and in the future. Governments should take note.
Greg Pellegrino (@gregpellegrino) is the Chairman of DTTL’s Global Public Sector industry practice and leads the Federal Government Services practice for Deloitte Financial Advisory Services LLP in the United States. He is the co-author of Cybersecurity: Everybody’s Imperative. Protecting our economies, governments, and citizens, and he served as Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Homeland Security and Defense Business Council based in Washington, D.C. from 2004 to 2009.