Michael Bibbo '89 is NASA’s go-to guy for television and radio programming
If you’re looking for a good place to catch the Aurora Borealis, you might give Nordlyskommunen, Norway, a try. The name means “the commune of the Aurora Borealis,” and its territory includes a remote coastal village known as Andenes, where, in 2003, Michael Bibbo ’89 watched the shimmering green lights of the spectacular phenomenon sweep across the polar sky.
For years, people have trekked to this sky-gazing mecca—almost 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle—in search of a good show, spiritual enlightenment, even fertility.
For Bibbo, it was just another day on the job.
“It was mesmerizing,” he says. “I was lying on my back watching it and I almost couldn’t help but laugh to myself. People from all over the world pay all kinds of money to come and see this. And here I was getting paid.”
A radio and television producer for NASA, Bibbo was in Andenes shooting a segment on the Andoya Rocket range, a small NASA facility where scientists conduct atmospheric tests to learn more about the green and red “northern lights” that frequent the region’s skies. Of all the exotic shooting locations he’s traveled to over the years, Andenes is, well—up there. “I like to think I’m a pretty fortunate guy,” says Bibbo, who’s been producing programs for NASA since 2000. “My job has literally taken me to the top of the world.”
It’s taken him to the top of his profession as well.
For Destination Tomorrow, a show that ran until 2007 and still airs in more than 500 markets around the world (and for which he traveled to Andenes), Bibbo and his team won a 2001 Emmy Award for best educational programming in the Capital Region, and a Golden Reel Award in 2005. More recently, for his editing of a segment on NASA 360—a program that examines how technology used in space comes back to inspire innovation on Earth—Bibbo won another Capital Region Emmy last year.
“I’ve been lucky to work with some amazingly talented people,” he says, quick to mention his wife, Jennifer Pulley, the host of Destination Tomorrow, NASA 360, and a radio show called Discovery Now. “But with every award or milestone in my career, I’ve had to thank my parents for allowing me to attend Bennington.”
Although Bennington didn’t yet have a film department when Bibbo was a student, he never let that dissuade him from his interest in filmmaking. Back then, in fact, his most prized possession was a VHS camcorder his father had given him in high school.
“I treated the thing like gold,” he recalls. “My friends and I were constantly running around campus making movies.” (One of those friends, musician Josh Kirsch ’89, would later write the theme music for NASA 360.)
At Bennington, Bibbo notes, “I had this incredible opportunity to explore all aspects of the subjects I was interested in.” And those subjects—architecture, sculpture, photography, and graphic design—“were all essential to developing depth of field and other things that are important in film production.”
“Being able to create your own coursework like that leaves you to your own decisions about what you want to do...you can really excel in leaps and bounds because you’re taking your education to heart.”
After graduating from Bennington in 1989, Bibbo followed his passion for filmmaking to New York, enrolling in The New School’s Film and Media Studies program—“a leap of faith,” he says, “that couldn’t have worked out any better.”
In New York, Bibbo met his future wife Jennifer, and, after completing his master’s in 1993, the two moved to Virginia Beach, where Bibbo took a job producing BuzTV, a local entertainment show that featured Pulley as a correspondent.
During the next several years, Bibbo worked his way up to larger markets, producing a regional outdoor adventure program called Virginia Outdoor Life, and then Brain Stew, a nationally syndicated children’s show (hosted by Pulley) that was rated in the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s top 10 list of quality educational programs.
After Brain Stew’s third and final season, Bibbo was hired by NASA in 1999 to work on two live interactive Space Station broadcasts—both of which reached audiences of more than 15 million viewers. NASA liked him so much they decided to keep him.
“The co-producer said that they were interested in starting some new adult educational programming and asked if I would be willing to come over,” he says. “I’ve been happily employed ever since.”
Today, Bibbo produces Discovery Now, a radio show that highlights NASA’s latest advances in science and technology, and NASA 360, which airs on 450 public broadcasting, cable, and commercial television stations across the country. Now in its third season, the show already boasts 2,500 Twitter followers, more than 1,300 Facebook fans, and, in the past year, has been downloaded more than 2 million times from the NASA website.
“There’s a tremendous web audience that we didn’t even know about before we made the show available for download,” Bibbo says.
NASA 360 has brought Bibbo face to face with astronauts testing lunar rovers in the desert, archaeologists dissecting fossilized dinosaurs with lasers, scientists extracting oxygen from volcanic ash (in a process that may one day be used on the moon), and professional athletes—including golfers, swimmers, and skiers—whose equipment has been enhanced by NASA technology.
“It’s been incredible,” he says, “I really think—for me at least—I have the best job in the world.”
But of all the memorable moments Bibbo has experienced in his career—say, watching the northern lights in Norway, or staring down the mouth of an active Hawaiian volcano—one still rises above the rest.
“The first time I ever saw something I produced on TV,” he says. “I was just so tickled by it. It was really only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what I’ve done in my career, but I’ll never forget that. I felt just like a kid … And to tell you the truth, I still do.”