Cycling to space with Julien Harrod

Laylan SaadaldinLaylan Saadaldin
  17 November 2016

Here at EJR-Quartz we are tremendously proud of our team. They are talented and creative individuals who know their stuff and are passionate about their work. They are the people who make your content matter. In our new series, we speak to our staff – editors, writers, communications specialists, social media gurus, content managers, scientists, IT specialists, explorers – about their work and what inspires them. Follow along and get to know #WhoWeAre.   

First up in the series is editor Julien Harrod.

So what is your role at ESA?

JH: I am the editor for Human Spaceflight and Robotic Exploration at the European Space Agency. I’ve been in this role for nearly 5 years.

As an editor for human spaceflight, what are some of your main tasks?

JH: I write and edit articles about the latest news and events happening in Human Spaceflight for the main ESA website. Some of this is standard, cyclical news and updates on human spaceflight events, launches, or projects. I also write about related science experiments happening in ESA or externally, as well as press releases. Another major part of my job is social media. I write posts for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Plus, Flickr, and YouTube. I am the voice of @esaspaceflight and formerly 50% of @esaoperation, but also support other ESA accounts, including that of astronauts during their missions on the International Space Station.

That’s really interesting! Can you tell us more about working regularly with ESA astronauts? What kind of support do you provide them?

JH: It is! While most astronauts have a sense of how they’d like to use social media while they’re on their mission, I help them plan and execute their social media strategy. I also assist them logistically with the timing and posting of their content. Astronauts aboard the International Space Station have incredibly busy schedules as well as limited internet access. The internet connection bounces between satellites as the Station orbits the Earth, so connection time and speed vary. So I ensure their tweet, photo, or video clip appears when it should.

Sounds like a dream job. But what are some challenges of working with astronauts on the ISS?

JH: Scheduling, for one. The main contact times with astronauts are during what would normally be my breakfast, lunch and dinner times. The astronauts also usually have weekends off. This means I’ve got to have a more flexible work schedule in order to interact with and accommodate them. Also, no two astronauts are alike, meaning the socmed approach that works for one astronaut doesn’t always appeal to another. So I always have to be ready to pitch new ideas and learn from their responses to better support their public relations goals during their missions.

What do you like the most about your job overall?

JH: I love the variety of what I do, from writing about upcoming events to discovering new things to share in the world of science and spaceflight. There is never a dull day at work, because something is always happening. Human spaceflight is also very dynamic, meaning things can always change unexpectedly. For example, the launch date for the next ESA astronaut going to the Space Station (Thomas Pesquet) was pushed back. You’ve got to be ready to work with such surprises. There’s an element of unpredictability but I find that exciting and challenging.

You’ve been a part of some remarkable things. Can you share a memorable moment you’ve had in this role?

JH: As Human Spaceflight editor, I’ve had the opportunity to be in a control centre during a Mission Critical Phase. This is where all the action happens; it’s the closest thing to space without actually being in space. I’ve spent many hours in control centres and I’m always blown away by how mission control teams are able to do their job calmly and professionally. Meanwhile, I’m the one bouncing from excitement!

You’re based at ESTEC (European Space Technology Centre) in the Netherlands. How do you like it there?

JH: I love it. I have great colleagues who are a wonderful source of support and inspiration. They’re also fun people who are open to new ideas and fun stuff. For example, we pitched the idea to participate in the viral “Harlem Shake” video trend a few years ago, and they were up for it. We called it the ESTEC Shake. It was a great opportunity to connect the space sector with popular culture.

What are some of your hobbies outside of human spaceflight? What do you like to do when you’re not communicating with astronauts or writing about space exploration?

JH: I am passionate about bicycles. I cycle to work every day, often planning my day along the way. I am also a bit of a nerd. I love playing around with computers. I have 3 Raspberry Pis at home, but primarily I try to give all my time to my wife and six year old – not always easy when astronauts are emailing you at all times!

Julien’s next big project is supporting ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who is launching to the ISS with crew mates cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky and NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson on Thursday, 17 November 17 at 21:20 CET from Baikonur. You can watch the launch LIVE here.

Learn more about Thomas and his mission on his blog and the Proxima mission page.

Follow along on social media: Twitter: @thom_astro, @esaspaceflight #ProximaFacebook, and Flickr.