Happy New Year, ladies and menfolk!
by Chris Tobias
2015 was quite a ride. NASA announced the crew that will fly its Commercial Crew missions, SpaceX bounced back from a resupply mission to the ISS that got a little too “interesting” and successfully landed the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket, and the Crew Dragon was given the green light to break atmo for the first time in 2017. And on the pop culture side of the ‘verse, The Martian made readers and moviegoers want to “science the sh*t” out of things, and a brand new Star Wars film broke both the internet and the box office, which means a whole new generation of young people is now dreaming of one day traveling to a galaxy far, far away.
Almost a year ago to the day, we laid out a plan for how we were going to go for hard-burn in our efforts to convince SpaceX to name their first Crew Dragon Serenity. Now that year is behind us, and it’s worth taking a brief look back at the year that was to see what soared like a leaf on the wind… and what fell out of the sky like it had a Capissan 38 engine!
We hoped to “go big” at cons in 2015, and although we may have failed to expand our presence west of the Mississippi River, we did manage to appear at some of the most prestigious cons in the US last year. We had a table at MegaCon in Orlando in the spring, and in September we took part in a Whedon Track panel at Dragon Con (a mecca for those who believe that Joss is boss) and hosted our very own panel at the inaugural Wizard World convention in Pittsburgh. What was different from past years though, was that not once did we manage to have a panel and a table at the same con, and we definitely learned how much the two contribute to one another’s success. We also learned that bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. Dragon Con was by far the largest con we’d ever attended, but the turnout at our panel was one of the smallest, most likely due to the fact that none other than Felicia Day was scheduled for a panel in another one of the con’s five host hotels at more or less the same time. (We’re not bitter about that. Honest. Heck, if we hadn’t been sitting on our own panel, we’d have been at Felicia Day’s panel too!)
With less than a year remaining until SpaceX names the first Crew Dragon, we’ll have to choose the cons we attend very carefully this year. At this point we’ll be targeting cons that take place in late winter and early spring, in the hopes that any letters or petition signatures we generate there will reach SpaceX early enough to have an impact on their decision to name the ship. We also plan to concentrate on events that will allow us to set up a table on the convention floor, because while panels spread the word and are all manner of fun to do, they’re not guaranteed to translate into letters and petition signatures the way a table does. And as our most recent post has already indicated, we’ll try even harder to expand our reach beyond sci-fi and comics conventions to include events that focus more on the hard science of spaceflight, like our appearance at the 21-and-over “Rocket Science Night” at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Science Center in a couple of weeks.
Jeff and I have long debated the effectiveness of online petitions, but in the end they’re just too convenient to ignore. Our first petition, which was sent to SpaceX in late August, had been online for almost three years and had amassed over 2,200 signatures from all over the world. The printed version that we mailed to Elon Musk was 209 pages long!
Suffice it to say that our new petition, which has been online for just over four months, is not faring as well as its predecessor. Truthfully, I can’t say why that is, but so far it’s only accumulated a little over a hundred signatures. We can only continue to encourage folk to sign it and hope it doesn’t remain on the drift a whole lot longer.
There are three major differences between our old petition and the new one. The first is that the new one is intended to target SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell instead of founder and CEO Elon Musk. This is because Ms. Shotwell has confessed on multiple occasions to being a fan of Firefly, and we feel she’d take more of a personal interest in our message. The second is that our new petition calls on SpaceX to announce the name of the ship at San Diego Comic-Con this July. That’s significant, because it means the petition can only remain online until the end of June, at which time it will have to be sent to SpaceX. And finally, the new petition is hosted by Change.org, whereas the old one was conducted through MoveOn.org. We thought this would be a more modern platform that would support a wider range of mobile devices, but one consequence we hadn’t foreseen is that the new platform will not let you enter multiple names and e-mail addresses from the same computer, so we can no longer have folk sign our petition at our tables at events and simply add their names and e-mails online at the end of the day. (From now on, petitions signed at our table at each individual event will be mailed directly to SpaceX once that event has concluded.)
If you haven’t signed our new online petition yet, please take a moment and do it now. It doesn’t cost a thing, and yours can be one of the first signatures to be added to the list in 2016! Also, once you’ve signed, please tell all of your friends who are Browncoats or space enthusiasts to sign it too. It will only remain open until June 30.
This Very Site
Perhaps the most successful aspect of our campaign in 2015 was takebackthesky.net itself. Last January, I stated our intention to increase both the frequency of our blog posts and traffic on the site, and I’m very pleased to say we accomplished that goal. 2015 saw a record number of visitors to our site, with more than 3,500 visits and over 5,500 views, and the number of views per visitor showed a slight increase last year as well. And what’s even more exciting is that the Take Action page was the second most viewed page on the site behind the home page. That’s important, of course, because a call to action is the site’s raison d’être. Last year a record number of people visited our Take Action page, more than double the number that gave it a look the previous year! We can only hope that those views translated into letters and leaves that were mailed to SpaceX headquarters in support of a Crew Dragon named Serenity.
And the site’s sudden surge was surely no accident. It’s pretty obvious that one of the biggest reasons why more people were reading was because there was a lot more to read. We published a record number of posts in 2015, and while we didn’t exactly meet our stated goal of two posts a week, we did manage an average of four posts a month last year, which of course comes out to an average of a post a week. The numbers don’t lie, and they’ve shown us that if we keep writing, our supporters will keep on reading, so we plan to fill this blog again this year with even more shiny stuff about Firefly, the space industry, SpaceX, and of course our campaign for a Crew Dragon named Serenity.
But we need to keep things in perspective. Even with several thousand visitors to this site last year, we were still a far cry from “going viral.” In fact, if every person who has visited this site since 2012 wrote a letter to SpaceX asking them to name their first Crew Dragon Serenity, that number wouldn’t even begin to approach the number of letters that were received by NASA and the White House in the late 70’s requesting that the first space shuttle be named Enterprise. There’s still a lot of work to be done, and we now have a lot less time to do it in.
Where do we go from here?
In all likelihood, we have less than a year before we know the name of the first Crew Dragon. If that name is to be Serenity, we need to make sure that over the next six months, SpaceX is constantly aware that there is a strong contingent of supporters who believe that the company should name their first manned Dragon after Firefly’s little transport ship that could.
Letters and leaves will always be the backbone of our campaign. That’s because, unlike a petition which can be signed only once. Anyone can send as many letters or leaves to SpaceX as he or she likes, and multiple letters from the same individual are generally looked upon as a sign of passion and persistence, whereas multiple signatures from the same person on a petition would be considered dishonest. In the past two months, I’ve personally sent both Elon Musk and Gwynne Shotwell two short notes, each of which contained a faux maple leaf. (This was in addition to the letters I had written earlier in the year.) This month I plan to mail each of them a postcard congratulating them on the successful recovery of the Falcon 9 and wishing them continued success in 2016, along with a polite suggestion that they consider Serenity as a name for their first Crew Dragon. I’ve heard it said that the Israeli Defense Force teaches its soldiers that any target worth hitting once is worth hitting three times. That’s probably a philosophy that should be applied to our letter-writing campaign, especially since it’s unlikely that we’re going to be able to mobilize as massive a fandom as the Trekkies did back in 1976.
Social media is a tool we cannot ignore, and we have had a steady presence on Facebook, Twitter, and to a lesser degree Instagram, since the early days of our campaign. We will, of course, continue to use those outlets to broadcast our message “… from here to the eyes and ears of the ‘verse,” as Mr. Universe would say.
But we also need to consider how we can boldly go where we haven’t gone before, and the most obvious option left to us is video. Back in 2013, a young man who supports our cause posted a video he created to promote us on YouTube, even though we were completely unaware of it at the time. So far that’s the only time video has been used to boost our signal. But while we were at Dragon Con this past year, the creators of the Firefly fan film Browncoats: Redemption and the Firefly Online video game enlightened us as to how beneficial the posting of videos on YouTube was in garnering support for their projects, and after talking to them, we definitely believe that medium could be an intriguing possibility for 2016. So if you run into us at a con or a SEDS event this year, don’t be surprised if we ask you if you’d like to record a short video asking SpaceX to name their Crew Dragon Serenity.
2016 is going to be the most important year in the history of Take Back the Sky. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon has a crew, and we even have a general idea when she’ll launch. It won’t be long now before she has a name. If we want that name to be Serenity, then our New Year’s resolution has to be to make sure every letter, leaf, petition signature, post, tweet and video appeal shows SpaceX just how much want to see them take a transport ship named Serenity out to the black.
So… we aim to misbehave even more than usual this year. How about you?
Peace, love and rockets…