Why I’m reinventing my (online) self and you can too

All, life

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Five years ago, I created Making Apple Pie From Scratch in a haze of inspiration, wanderlust and longing for the previous summer. I was a 21 year old Biology graduate that had recently returned to the leafy suburbs of London after a whirlwind 3 months abroad in Florida (read my old-school first ever blog post here). It had been an unforgettable summer in the sunshine state, spent watching rocket launches at NASA Kennedy Space Center, taking classes on space exploration, meeting (and partying with) astronauts, and making lifelong friends with people sharing my vision of the world.

Brimming with stories of the summer that I spent studying the stars, I felt compelled to share my journey and this blog began as a way to do just that. I caught the travel bug and have lived in 6 countries in the past 5 years, communicating science along the way. I have written about how our bodies will react to living on Mars, described astonishing light displays on Saturn, personified spacecrafts, dissected the anatomy of an asteroid and explored how satellites can help us to protect our planet. Creating #scicomm content is what I love to do and  when sprinkled with a dusting of my travel posts, the combination was a great fit for Making Apple Pie From Scratch.

That was until recently however. My blog – created by 21 year old me – hasn’t quite caught up with the 26 year old me that is writing this article. I am convinced that our digital persona and real-life self almost always never match up. And, with every year spent abroad and every experience along the way, I’ve felt my blog drift further and further away from who I am today, towards who I was yesterday. I’ve changed – as I’m sure you have too with every passing year of your life. Ever feel like the you you’re putting out in the world could be a little more truer to the real you? Same. This feeling affects writer’s block too – I’ve found it often happens when what you’re trying to write about isn’t really what you want to write about at that moment in time. That’s exactly how I realised that my online self needed a digital makeover. My interests include science, space and travel, but are not limited to those things either. Realising that you don’t have to pick one thing when you care about many is a profound moment that I think many of us don’t allow ourselves the creative headspace to ever reach.

Going forward, I’m going to begin sharing more of myself on this blog. I’ll be posting more honest content that is relatable and hopefully, helpful. That doesn’t mean less science, or travel, but more posts on other topics that interest me – which may, or may not include science and travel. As a young British Indian women who has a global perspective, I care about things as diverse as ethnic minority representation, climate change solutions, social enterprises and startups, the diaspora of 2nd gen immigrants like myself, creating technologies for change and empowering people to be their best selves. I’ve already written an article on the unexpected realities of living abroad that I wish I had known before, and am vocal about my many interests on Twitter already. My blog, it seems was the last online platform to catch up with my modern-day self. But, as I have learnt, it’s never too late to reinvent your online self. After all, as astronomer Carl Sagan said, “if you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe”. Well, Making Apple Pie From Scratch, here’s to reinvention.

-Nikita

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Creating Communication: Blogging for Science

All, Creating Communication, science communication, Space

I recently interviewed EJR-Quartz colleague Daniel Scuka to discuss the field of science blogging. Daniel works as Senior Editor for Spacecraft Operations at ESOCESA’s Space Operations Centre in Germany. He had a wealth of information and advice to share on the best ways to blog, why it is a wonderful method of communication and also mentioned the challenges he has faced when blogging for science.

A sad Daniel on his last day blogging for ATV. (Credit: @AndreasSchepers )

A sad Daniel on his last day blogging for ATV. (Credit: @AndreasSchepers )

Daniel has been writing on the dedicated blog for ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) series of missions since 2007. Responsible for delivering cargo and reboosting the International Space Station (ISS) in orbit, the last ATV re-entered Earth’s atmosphere on 15th February 2015.

So Daniel, what exactly is ATV used for?

First of all, the ATV vessels are used to deliver cargo and supplies to the International Space Station. An ATV docks for about five or six months, comprising the so-called attached phase. There’s dry cargo that is carried inside the cargo compartment, including food, clothing, supplies and equipment for experiments on board the ISS. It also supplies wet goods, which is fuel, air, oxygen, gases, nitrogen, water and as all of that gets delivered to the ISS, garbage and waste gets loaded onto the ATV. So, when it undocks it takes all of this off the Station and it burns up in the atmosphere.

ATV has a thruster system so it can reboost the Station which naturally steadily decays with each orbit. Furthermore, it can be used to provide debris avoidance manoeuvres when any space debris  are predicted to come too close — then the ATV’s thrusters can be used to either raise or lower its orbit avoid whatever piece of debris is coming over. That’s ATV in a nutshell.

What’s so special about this particular ATV, ATV-5?

When ATV-5 was launched last July, it was the heaviest payload ever put in space by

ATV5 re-entry coincided with Valentines weekend. A lovely way to say goodbye don't you think? (ESA)

ATV5 re-entry coincided with Valentines weekend. A lovely way to say goodbye don’t you think?
(ESA)

Europe (weighing in with a mass of 20,245 kilograms). It’s interesting that the last of the five ATV vessels ended up being the biggest and the baddest.

What are the challenges of communicating technical topics to a general audience?

Well, knowing who your audience is, is rather important and you absolutely have to accept the fact that you will never satisfy your entire audience all the time because the audience for this kind of information or for what ESA does with space is so diverse.

Secondly – there’s a whole range of requirements to be satisfied there in the sense of knowing who is actually the right person to provide that kind of information. Therefore, as the blog editor, you’ve got to make sure that when you’re getting information, you then turn around and publish it in the right way: don’t quote the junior engineer working on the ATV propulsion system about the value of why the ISS flies at all. Conversely, a high-level programme manager may not know the details of how the propulsion system works, so maintaining contact with those working-level engineers can be pretty valuable. I don’t think that this is unique to ESA and it’s not a bad thing either. If you do want to quote about the value of flying ATV or Europe participating in the ISS, go to the source.

The third challenge has been technical because when we started off our blog, it was literally sitting on a server underneath somebody’s desk. It crashed a lot and it  took a long time to get the technology right. Now it’s finally properly hosted and properly

backed up. Now the only time it occasionally crashes is when it gets overwhelmed by NASA retweeting one of our posts such as this one – How many calories does it take to bring a calorie to the ISS?

Can you give any tips or advice on blogging for aspiring and practising science communicators out there?

1. Get your facts right. Be humble when it’s pointed out to you that you have got them wrong.

2. Understand your audience as best as you can and adapt how and what you write or publish to match your audience. Be dynamic, don’t just simply follow some kind of monolithic style that you think is the right style on Day 1, adapt your style over time because you’ll find that your audience is never monolithic.

3. Know your topic, know your domain. If you’re doing science communications, you’re talking about some specific domain. Find out who’s not providing some needed information and that’s where you’re really going to prove valuable.

One last question, what is your favourite ATV vessel?

I guess the first one and that’s because there was no way to test the ATVs in-flight prior to the  actual ATV-1’s launch. Every single line of code, every single mission activity, every single button that was pressed at ATV-CC was monitored by NASA and Russia to ensure that ATV was safe and that the ATV Control Centre team – staffed by ESA and CNES, the French space agency – knew their stuff.  I think in retrospect that it was the most impressive vessel in the series because it put the ATV design through everything it could do then and since then, they’ve all performed flawlessly and they’ve all done what they were meant to do. So ATV-1 was probably the most impressive and my favourite. Also, the ATV-1 mission was our first intro into blogging and our learning curve was certainly the steepest so that has given me lots of fond memories.

atvblog

A screenshot of the official ESA dedicated ATV blog updated by Daniel and other editors on the science and stories of ATV since 2007. (http://blogs.esa.int/atv/)

So there you have it! An insight into the world of science blogging from an expert who has spent almost a decade communicating the wonders of ATV in blog form. Blogs are definitely here to stay, it seems 🙂

-Nikita

An edited version of this article originally appeared online at EJR-Quartz.