Johns Hopkins APL Communications Team Wins Gold for DART Impact Campaign

A little more than eight months after helping to share with the world the historic impact that NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) made on the asteroid Dimorphos, the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory’s (APL) Communications Department received several social media and digital video awards for their work. DART, a test of the first kinetic impactor planetary defense system, warranted a global public awareness effort. The impact campaign executed by APL and NASA was honored for that broad reach.

In May, APL’s DART digital team and their NASA colleagues received a gold honor in Government & Politics at the 15th Annual Shorty Awards, and the DART impact broadcast team nabbed three Telly Awards, which honor excellence in video and television across all screens.

The Shorty Awards have honored the year’s best digital and social media efforts since 2008, and the Government & Politics category in particular recognizes “the most effective and creative use of social media and digital by a political party, politician, government advocacy group or city, state or country government.” At the Telly Awards, the impact broadcast team, which comprised more than 50 APL and NASA team members, earned the gold award in Education & Training, a silver award in Use of Live Video/Broadcast and a silver award in Live Events.

The APL team behind the Shorty-winning #DARTMission social media campaign included Michael Buckley, Sarah Hughey, Jeremy Rehm, Justyna Surowiec and Jessica Tozer, and the NASA team included Digital Media Manager Emily Furfaro and Public Affairs Officer Josh Handal.

“This campaign was a true team effort,” said Tozer, who manages APL’s digital media program. “So much was happening so quickly with so many moving parts, that no one person could have managed it. By having a team of people we knew we could count on, we were able to pull off a communications collaboration for the history books — literally and figuratively.”

The aims of this campaign comprised raising awareness of and excitement around DART’s asteroid impact encounter, while also inviting the public to join the conversation before and during NASA’s livestream of the November 2021 launch.

The social media push included the “Are You a Planetary Defender?” campaign, during which participants answered a short series of questions to earn their very own Planetary Defender badge, as well as hosting a Reddit “Ask me anything” where scientists answered questions about the mission. It also featured a virtual, global NASA Social that connected social media users around the world to talk about the mission, interact with NASA and DART team members in real time, and watch the launch.

After the launch, the public awareness campaign continued through the DART impact broadcast in September 2022 with in-person NASA Social events at APL, activities and handouts for participants to host a watch party anywhere in the world, and engaging content on NASA’s Asteroid Watch Twitter account.

The social media campaign covered an astounding 700 posts and reached over 1.2 million people, with more than 68,000 engagements and 14,000 link clicks.

“Working with a huge team of experts is always the best part of the process for me,” said APL video producer Steve Smith. “It’s just so impressive seeing how many talented people — designers, animators, videographers, technicians, writers, producers, everyone — come together to create great productions.”

In the impact broadcast video, NASA Digital Strategist Tahira Allen and then-APL Space Communications Strategist Samson Reiny walked viewers through the process of DART’s autonomous approach and successful impact of its target asteroid, Dimorphos. Their discussion was interspersed with questions from the public, the near-real-time view from DART’s own camera as it approached the asteroid, shots of the project team working in DART’s Mission Operations Center on APL’s campus, and live interviews with project scientists and engineers. It even included commentary from astronauts on board the International Space Station (ISS).

In particular, ISS astronauts playfully demonstrated kinetic impact deflection with astronaut R. Shane Kimbrough playing the role of the asteroid Dimorphos being knocked back by “DART.” APL’s communications team helped script the segment in collaboration with NASA.

“We have a breadth of experience on our team, from the broadcast and live event industry to the public affairs side,” said APL hybrid events producer Jenny Gebhardt. “For the broadcast and streaming, we all worked closely to make sure all the pieces were in place.”

The APL and NASA production teams also included engaging graphics in the impact broadcast, such as portraying Dimorphos orbiting the larger asteroid Didymos or resting on the National Mall, comparing its size to the Washington Monument.

“The team behind the broadcast included various communications colleagues, along with partners from the Space Exploration Sector and across the Lab,” said Surowiec, who leads APL’s public affairs section and was the lead public affairs officer for the DART mission. “From our on-camera talent to our team in the control booth and behind the camera, writers, editors, experts and more helped APL broadcast this historic moment for humanity.”