It was dark and chilly in Austin on Sunday, March 10th, the night that NASA planned to break the Guinness World Record for "largest outdoor astronomy lesson." The cold front had cleared the clouds, leaving the stars bright and stark in the sky, and the 526 space geeks in NASA ball caps and T-shirts didn’t mind the temperature – they were happy to participate, even though the talk was just a basic demonstration on light and color. Some even lugged their own telescopes.

At 8:35PM, Dr. Frank Summers, the master of ceremonies and a Hubble astrophysicist, stopped abruptly to make an announcement. "Those of you with smartphones," he said, with a triumphant pause, "You can tweet that we have just finished the world’s largest outdoor astronomy lesson!"

The world record attempt was just one hour out of NASA’s multi-day programming at South by Southwest Interactive, the infamous digital conference. Twitter hit its tipping point here, the legend goes, and so many big brands have started to make the trek. This is NASA’s first year among them, part of a larger effort to cultivate a "hipper, more accessible" image and reach new audiences. But it may be missing the mark on both counts. NASA’s social strategy draws some people in, but there are signs that things need to change — much like NASA itself.