It was always going to capture public hearts and minds: the first Briton to serve a mission on the International Space Station and our first astronaut in space since the advent of social media.
However, a successful comms mission was never guaranteed – like any comms campaign, it took careful planning, good relationships, a large dose of creativity and sheer hard work.
Julien Harrod, Human Spaceflight Editor at EJR-Quartz, was commissioned by the European Space Agency (ESA) as Social Media Lead for the six-month Principia mission and worked closely with Tim Peake throughout.
He told IC Mag why good communication was so crucial to the mission’s success: “As an inter-governmental organisation, it is important that what the ESA does is communicated to our clients and financers: the public.
“If Tim’s mission had not inspired people or made people think about their life on Earth it would have been a missed opportunity. Tim’s experience is so privileged it would be criminal to not share it as much as possible.”
The social media team’s biggest challenge, says Julien, was the 24/7 nature of the work: “Mission Directors rotate every three months to help handle the load, but we worked every day for the whole Principia mission and are still continuing – of course this is the same for Tim Peake, but astronauts in general tend to require less sleep, a positive aspect of living in weightlessness! Waking up on Earth to multiple emails sent throughout the night from space was common.”
The challenge was made easier by keeping lines of communication open and working well inside the team, emphasises Julien: “What helped most was the mutual trust and constant exchange, that was honest and informal. From my side there was never a doubt that we were on the same songsheet, as Tim would say. This was achieved through constant updates and appreciation of each other’s work and time.”