In which we blog about the marvellous intricacies of writing and editing.

home               blog               team               work               contact

Monday, 3 February 2014

Life on Mars: ESA's space tales

I'm not an astronaut, space scientist or engineer, but I'm hooked on the European Space Agency's emails. When I worked as a funding content editor for policy publisher Research, I signed up to as many European public body mailing lists as possible, to avoid missing any calls. Most mailouts contained dry lists of upcoming events, but ESA's headlines have consistently tempted me, ensuring I stayed on their list long after it stopped being essential for my job.

Here are a few recent examples:

  • Cool Andromeda
  • Game on: European student codes reach space station
  • Orion Slideshow
  • Choosing the right people to go to Mars
  • Smelling Grímsvötn (a bit Tolkien, that one)

You might think that space science has an easy ride when it comes to impressing readers, and they're certainly not short of arresting photography. But given that the European Commission has allocated €330 million in FP7 funds to its Science in Society programme, which aims to communicate science to the public, it seems even the bombastic disciplines need more outreach and engagement. And in a time of squeezed middles and reduced funding, when small businesses are going under and citizens fear for their homes, sympathy for multi-billion-euro space research programmes might understandably wane.

In a situation as sensitive as this, ESA's headlines manage to get the reader's attention without over-dramatising the story. This understatement sets up an expectation that the story behind it will no doubt be impressive. How about this for some nifty context-dependent litotes? Sitting beneath the space agency logo, the headline "Stormy Year" immediately suggests something a little more spectacular than a bit of drizzle or a few financial woes. Click.

There's an interesting short interview with ESA PR Manager Bernhard von Weyhe here. In the meantime, why not sign up to ESA's Space News alerts for more interplanetary wordplay?

No comments: