NASA is famously known for space exploration. From the launch of Explorer 1 in 1958 to Apollo 11’s successful lunar landing, NASA’s many missions have captured society’s imagination for decades. Its unique vantage point doesn’t just teach us about space, however. It also helps make a difference on our home planet.
The Earth Science Division (ESD) within NASA studies the Earth to provide decision makers with information that helps improve the lives of people around the world. But few know of their work’s impact. So, the ESD enlisted U.Group to craft a strategy and roll-out plan to help demonstrate how these projects have benefitted and continue to benefit society.
The result was Space For U.S.–an interactive website that encourages a deeper understanding of the various ways NASA’s Earth observations impact our everyday lives. It features 56 stories from across the United States about people who are using these observations to find solutions to local challenges. Since its launch in April 2019, the website has been visited 25.6 thousand times.
How did it come to fruition? Meet the team of experts who brought the project to life. Learn the skills each contributed, the obstacles they had to overcome, and the unique approaches they each had to tackling this project.
Building the Web Experience: Zaid White, Associate Director, Design
The success of Space For U.S. relied heavily on the ability to build a map that functioned well as a navigation tool but was still visually intriguing. Associate Director, Design Zaid White and his team took on the responsibility. For the visuals, the team leveraged NASA’s unique imagery of Earth to create a custom image and SVG-based map. These gorgeous visuals also helped the map’s functional design. It allowed the team to explore ReactJS—a technical solution used to create the map interactions and give the site an app-like feel. With this technology, a smooth, interactive experience was developed that successfully communicated how a user should interact with the website.
While fine-tuning the map, they faced a challenge—working with static content. Since Space For U.S. would live on NASA.gov, the site couldn’t be CMS-driven. Zaid led the team in brainstorming ways to manage the variability of content while keeping the experience consistent from page to page. “It was great working through problems with a dedicated group of folks—and doing it quickly,” he said.
Creating Article Content: Justin McCarthy, Senior Copywriter
The project’s success also relied on creating website content that effectively conveyed the impact of NASA’s Earth observations. Senior Copywriter Justin McCarthy and his team were tasked with turning information rich in technical detail into compelling, easily-understandable stories for all audiences. “We worked to make the content friendly and appealing so that people would be willing to go with us on this journey of understanding,” Justin said. “If there’s a barrier to entry, your audience is going to give up.”
To create this relatable yet inspirational narrative, the team worked to identify and highlight the human benefit inherent in NASA’s work. They carefully chose which details were necessary to include, and which could be omitted. As Justin explained, “[Details are] important when you’re trying to translate non-fiction scientific information for a broad audience.”
The result—a clear and comprehensive depiction of how NASA’s Earth observations benefit human life. “I loved the feeling of ending up with a beautifully written story that was the product of input from multiple writers,” Justin said.
Creating Video Content: Mike Brophy, Video & Motion Designer
With the website ready it go, it was time to introduce it to the public. In just over a two-minute runtime, Video & Motion Designer Mike Brophy brought the core message of Space For U.S. to life—providing an opportunity for a larger audience to preview the experience and inspire them to dive deeper. “Video’s real strength is in the low barrier to engagement,” he said. “We knew we wanted this to have high visibility to the general public, so we chose that kind of engaging content to bring in a lot of people.”
For the visuals, Scientific Visualization Studio provided the team with gorgeous imagery from Earth-observing satellites. He then worked with Senior Copywriter Justin McCarthy to draft a succinct, but powerful script.
The team chose three of the 56 stories to highlight in the video that they believed would resonate best with audiences. These stories shared the impact of NASA’s Earth observations on a solar wall powering a local café in Maine, a city’s initiative to identify its hottest areas and find cool solutions, and the emergency response to Hurricane Maria. Each demonstrated how NASA’s work can enhance our everyday lives.
The end result was a beautiful video that both introduced and encouraged the public to engage with the new Space For U.S. website. Since its launch, it has been viewed over 131 thousand times across Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
Science Meets Storytelling
Ultimately, it was the strong partnership between NASA and U.Group that allowed Space For U.S. to succeed. “When there’s a big challenge, and everyone on the team is contributing their superpower, ending up with something amazing becomes a victory for the community—and that’s more rewarding than a victory for an individual,” Justin said. U.Group’s strategic approach and creative collaboration—combined with NASA’s resources and support—allowed the team to deliver exactly what the ESD expected and also something they could never have imagined.