Artists Inspire Astronauts Challenge | NASA
In 2019, NASA's Artists Inspire Astronauts Challenge sought original and inspiring artwork to be displayed in Astronaut Crew Quarters, one of the last places astronauts spend time before heading to the launch pad.
As NASA prepares for the return of human spaceflight from U.S. soil through the Commercial Crew and Artemis Program, Kennedy Space Center is working to ensure they are ready to support launch operations. Supporting this push, Astronaut Crew Quarters, which houses astronauts in the weeks prior to their mission, has undergone upgrades since the conclusion of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011 to accommodate this new era of human spaceflight. The Artists Inspire Astronauts Challenge was an open competition for artists to submit their work for a chance to be displayed in Crew Quarters. The challenge included themes that are a priority for the agency: “Explore Humans in Space: Leading Discovery, Improving Life on Earth,” “Explore Moon to Mars: Moon Lights the Way” and “Explore Solar System and Beyond: Discovering the Secrets of the Universe.”
The challenge sought original artworks that will serve to inspire astronauts as they prepare for missions to the Space Station and deep space. NASA is not generally associated with the arts, and this challenge aimed to help NASA reach a unique audience that may not normally interact with the agency.
The competition received more than 300 submissions. After collecting artwork from Feb. 15-April 30, 2019, judging began for a month-long period before the winners were notified in early June. Judging was subjective by panel and based on quality, originality, creativity and representation of theme. Judges selected diverse mediums and subject matter to create a varied display of themes. Only submissions meeting those requirements were reviewed. Five pieces of art were selected from hundreds of submissions, and the winners received an invitation for them and three guests to attend a Commercial Crew Program launch at Kennedy Space Center along with their art being displayed in the Astronaut Crew Quarters at Kennedy.
Areas of Excellence
Targeting a Unique Audience
Federally sponsored prize competitions do not typically focus on artistic design or areas of social innovation. Through Artists Inspire Astronauts, NASA was able to engage with the arts community while sharing its messaging. Some of the success of the campaign can be attributed to this audience-targeting effort, which generated interest outside of NASA’s normal audience.
Executing the Communications Plan
Prior to the start date of the challenge, a social media and outreach plan was created to inform the public about the contest. Art magazines, museums and universities were targeted and sent press release-style emails to get the word out to the local and national arts community. The goal of the social media plan was to be disruptive and cut through the usual social media noise. A series of gifs and imagery were created and paired with informative copy about the challenge. The social media campaign drove a significant amount of traffic to Challenge.gov. In the days after the launch, the site saw about 6,000 more visitors than normal. Through continued promotion on the Kennedy Space Center accounts and amplification from other NASA centers, the social media campaign successfully drove traffic, interest and submissions for the challenge.
Work ahead to target industry influencers and publications.
Initially, creative influencers and art publications were identified to help spread the word about the contest, but the pitching stopped when it became apparent that they would only accept paid advertisement—something a government entity could not do. This may have been a missed opportunity to gain traction from notable names in the industry. Some art-based newsletters were sent information they could electronically disseminate to their audiences.
Have an end goal in mind for wrapping-up the challenge online.
Though the digital/social media strategy was effective during the duration of the campaign, there was not a plan in place to officially announce the winners on social media or a NASA website. This addition would have successfully wrapped-up the campaign without any loose ends.
NASA launched the Artists Inspire Astronauts challenge in 2019 to help create an inspiring environment for astronauts before they head out on space missions. The Astronaut Crew Quarters is one of the last places astronauts will spend time before heading for the launch pad. The judging panel consisted of two astronauts and three members of the art community.
The challenge had a large social media impact across the agency and drove heavy traffic to the contest’s webpage on Challenge.gov. The initial post garnered over 2,000 link clicks on Kennedy Space Center’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. This challenge represented a unique and positive approach and engagement with the arts community that can be replicated for future projects.