What has been fascinating about the Mars Curiosity mission so far has been the way that we have experienced NASA’s mission to the Red Planet not as a singular moment, but as a continuous flow of news, updates, photos, videos and, of course, tweets. While there may have been a single defining moment for Mars Curiosity — the night that we all stayed up late to watch the fateful "seven minutes of terror" — it is more likely that NASA’s fantastically successful mission to Mars will continue to be lived more as an ongoing flow of experiences and insights rather than as a singular moment, frozen in time.
Contrast that to the proverbial Sputnik Moment in 1957 — the moment when the Soviets launched the first orbital satellite into space and ignited the Space Race between America and the Soviet Union. This truly was a “moment” — a brief 98-minute orbit around Earth that demonstrated to the world that the United States had to play catch up with the Soviets or risk losing the Cold War. Within a year, the U.S. government had established NASA and was rapidly funneling millions of dollars into technological R&D. A single “moment” had crystallized a defining truth about innovation. The leaders and civilians of an entire nation could look back on a single moment in time and realize what had to be changed.
Now, fast-forward more than half-a-century later. The new generation of NASA realizes that the dream of space exploration to the farthest reaches of the universe with the support of the private sector can only come to fruition if we are able to experience early space exploration successes as an ongoing flow of images and updates. Through social media, we already live our lives as a series of flows, streams and feeds, so it was only natural that NASA has supported the Mars Curiosity mission with extensive attention to social media. There have been the Google Hangout with the JPL crew, the YouTube videos, the Reddit AMA interview and the regular updates from @MarsCuriosity.
Focusing on the “flow” rather than the “moment” corresponds to how the digital era has changed the way we perceive events and news. Internet visionary Kevin Kelly, speaking about the future of the Internet, highlighted "flowing" as one of the six verbs that best describe the world around us — “no past and future, just a stream.” John Battelle, another Internet visionary, now talks about media as a series of "streams" rather than a collection of static pages. Streams and flows are how we process the information around us.
So the next time you hear politicians like Barack Obama talking about a "Sputnik Moment" to boost R&D for certain technology sectors or educators playing up the “Sputnik Moment” to increase funding for the STEM fields for our schools, take a step back and think. They are not really calling for a “Sputnik Moment,” they are calling for a “Curiosity Flow.”
Dominic Basulto is a digital thinker at Bond Strategy and Influence (formerly called Electric Artists) in New York. Prior to Bond Strategy and Influence, he was the editor of Fortune’s Business Innovation Insider and a founding member of Corante.com, one of the Web's first blog media companies. He also shares his thoughts on innovation on the Big Think Endless Innovation blog and is working on a new book on innovation called "Endless Innovation, Most Beautifuland Most Wonderful."
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