PV010: NASA STS-132 Tweetup

Posted by Arlo on Jul 15, 2010 under Life of Arlo, Postcard Valet, PV-Podcast, Travel, Videos

Here’s a long-ish podcast episode about the NASA Tweetup I attended back in May.  Oksana wasn’t able to go with me, so this video ending up being a one-man show.  There’s some good stuff in there, I think, but I ran into some problems during the production (not the least of which was overexposing my “narrator” shot… grrr!)  My intent was to convey my own experiences at, and thoughts about, the NASA Tweetup.  I hope I managed to at least do that.

Originally I thought I’d post it in June, but packing for our backpacking-around-the-world trip got too crazy for that.  Then, I thought I’d post it on the first week of the trip, but the trip itself got too crazy for that!

Oksana and I are finding ourselves facing down the Traveler Blogger’s Dilemma: How do we budget time for webpage work when there’s a whole exciting world out there to see?  Turns out that’s especially hard when you’re visiting friends and family!

The following is a transcript of the above video for Google’s benefit (ignore it, watch the video instead!)

So, back in April, I had planned a vacation with two of my friends to go see what I thought was going to be a once in a lifetime experience.  That was one of the last four space shuttle launches in Florida.  We watched that launch from the NASA Causeway which is about as close as you can expect to get if you’re just a member of the public, but we had to pay about $110 dollars for that privilege.  From 11 o’clock the night before until about 6:30 in the morning, with a gap of maybe an hour and a half when we toured the visitor’s center in the middle of the night, we were stuck on a bus.  I’m not complaining, we saw a fantastic launch, I got some awesome pictures, and it’s a memory that will live with me forever.

And with three shuttle launches to go, I never thought I’d get to see another one…

(Twitter | Chance to see launch! RT @NASA: registration for STS-132 launch will open Apr 19-20. You don’t have to be 1st! http://www.nasa.gov/tweetup | 10:22am Apr 16th via TwitterGadget | joe_e_bear | Joseph E Sears)

..but!  One of my friends let me know that the NASA Twitter feed was advertising a contest of sorts, more of a lottery actually.  They were going to be invite people to their “Tweetup” for the next shuttle launch.  Turns out over 1000 people signed up and they chose 150 – one of which was me!

They were organizing two days worth of events before the shuttle launch…and they were going to let us see the shuttle launch from the press site which is about 3 miles closer than the Causeway I’d seen it on before.

That clenched it, I had to go.

So the first day I’m there, I drive to the Kennedy Space Center, and using the directions they gave me, I find the place where we registered.  We were all standing in line, very excited to give them our IDs, and in exchange they gave us a NASA bag full of all sorts of promotions goodies.

One of the coolest things in there was a bag of freeze dried “space ice cream,” which I haven’t tried yet, so I’m going to go ahead and give it a shot here.  It’s like an ice cream bar — sort of warm and dehydrated. (laugh) (bite) (chew) But actually really good!

At the security checkpoints, we had to flash our incredibly cool NASA Tweetup press badges.  Then we drove to the Vehicle Assembly Building and hung a right, and right there was the press area.

They had a tent set up for us right next to the countdown clock and it had air conditioning inside, it was grass on the ground with tables set up everywhere, with power connections and wi-fi so that we could get on the internet and user our Twitter accounts.  It was actually a very comfortable setup.

They had a podium up front, flanked by two screens showing whatever NASA TV was showing and they paraded in a whole bunch of guest speakers for us the first morning.

John Yembrick, NASA Spokesman
Robert Braun, NASA Chief Technologist
Janice Voss, Astronaut

Ron Woods, NASA Equipment Specialist
Jon N. Cowart, Orbiter Engineering Manager
Stephanie Stilson, Flow Director – Orbiter Discovery
Dave Wolf, Astronaut

When the speakers were talking, I tried to give them my full attention.  I took a few pictures of course, and some video, but I noticed a lot of people were just buried in their laptop, tweeting and retweeting everything that was said.  I’m sure NASA loved that because the whole point inviting so many people is that we rebroadcast that to our own audiences and build up the enthusiasm that we feel for NASA.

I posted maybe 20 tweets that day and worried that I was boring people that follow me; some people must have posted literally hundreds.  Looking around at the “Tweeps,” as we called ourselves, I noticed a very diverse bunch of people.  There were quite a few that knew a lot more than I did about NASA.  There were some, like me, who were just sort of there, star struck and just taking it all in.

That afternoon, after lunch, we got to go on a tour of some of the NASA facilities.  First stop was the International Space Station Center.  There was an introductory movie, that was maybe five minutes long, and then we were let into a place where they had mockups of the different living modules and the science modules.

I almost missed it because we didn’t have a lot of time there, but if you crossed this elevated bridge, you could look down into the real clean room.  There wasn’t a lot of activity going on, but it was kind of cool looking down into the place where they actually build the modules for the space station.

Next stop was the Saturn V Center which was really, I thought, quite impressive.  First we were shown a movie that talked about the Space Race.  Kind of emotional when they touched on some of the losses and hurdles that were overcome to achieve the first moon landing.

(I was a launch controller here, when from this very spot, Man took off to fly to the moon.)

After that we were ushered into the actual Mission Control room that has been restored and sort of turned into a museum.  They had a presentation there that kind of made it feel like it did when they launched the Saturn V rocket.  And they dimmed the lights; you could see the different control stations light up and the sequence of events on the wall…

(Oxygen tank has been pressurized…)

After that, we had about an hour or so that we could wander about the Saturn V museum. They had the newly-restored Saturn V rocket with all sorts of displays and dioramas around.

I touched a rock that actually came from the moon.

(Lunar Sample 70035.40.020 | Apollo 17, December 7-19, 1972 | This basalt sample, estimated to be 3.7 billion years old, was collected by astronaut Harrison Schmitt near the Taurus-Littrow Valley region of the Moon.)

I went in to get a drink and found out that they were incredibly expensive and made a joke on Twitter that that must be how they were funding the space program.

(I think we now know how they’re funding the space program… http://twitpic.com1nhnua #nasatweetup 11:44am May 13th via Tweetdeck | rlomidgett | Arlo Midgett)

After the Saturn V Center, we had what was probably the most amazing experience, for me, for the day.

We went out to the launch pad. We were within maybe 200 or 300 yards of the Space Shuttle Atlantis the day before it was set to launch.  There were camera boxes all around us that people had set up, and we were there to watch what they call the Rotating Service Structure retract.

It’s that huge apparatus that’s leaning up against the Space Shuttle and they pull it away, leaving the Shuttle exposed on the launch pad by itself.  It happens very slowly, so you don’t really end up staring at it the whole time, but bit-by-bit and piece-by-piece, you see Atlantis revealed on the launch pad.  It was very, very cool to be there for that.

Before we left we had our group Tweetup photo taken by the NASA photographer.  I left that night at probably around 6:30pm and while I was in Orlando, I called a local radio station, here in Juneau, and gave a short little interview about my experiences down there.  Which was kind of neat; the next day I had a lot people sending me tweets saying that they woke up to me on the radio.

The second day didn’t start out so great.  I guess there were something like 300,000 people driving to the coast, and I didn’t plan ahead for the traffic, so I got there a little bit late and was literally running in to get into the second Tweetup group photo.

After that, we again set up in the Tweetup tent and I can’t speak for everybody else, but my sense of anticipation for the launch made it so that I couldn’t quite pay attention like I did the day before.  I found myself getting up and going outside and looking at the countdown clock.  I went and found a spot where I could set up my tripod and sort of claim my space up front.  There was a moment were CNN came in and interviewed some people at the Tweetup.

I, myself, was right behind Stephanie when she was giving a local TV station an interview.

Stephanie Schierholz, NASA Social Media Manager
(Today they are primarily here to watch the launch, but we have some guest speakers for them…)

And then they turned and talked to me.  As far as I know, that never aired; I didn’t see anything on their website, but…

About 45 minutes before the launch, I went out and started setting up my tripod and my camera gear.  I had decided that, this time, I was going to go for video since I had focused on getting photos on the last launch, but with three or four cameras with me, I couldn’t really decide what to use, so I had a kind of creative solution: I brought a tripod plate, and with bungee cords and gaffer’s tape I put all three of my cameras on it and focused them all on the launch pad so that when I moved it, they would move together and hopefully keep pointing at the same thing.

Our only rule in setting up our tripods was that if any of the official media asked us to move, we had to.  Fortunately, where I picked apparently wasn’t in the way, because the only media that came over to me just wanted to take pictures of my crazy camera setup.

In the 45 minutes before the Shuttle launch, we watched manatees frolicking in the water out in front of us.  An alligator swam right underneath, right by my feet.

The launch itself was spectacular!  Being half-again as close as I was on my first launch, I could definitely tell a difference in the sound.  It was louder! I actually felt the rumble in my chest.  It shook me.

(Go Atlantis!)

Unfortunately, I must have bumped the focusing ring, or something, on the camera that was set to take some photos, because every one single one of them turned out blurry.  Do I regret that?  Not a bit!  The only disappointment was that, from our vantage point, the column of smoke went straight up, and as the Shuttle arched over the eastern horizon, it fell behind that column of smoke and we weren’t even given a chance to see the booster separation.

After the launch, I was coming down off an emotional high and I had a long drive ahead of me, but it was interesting to think that there were hundreds or thousands of NASA employees all over the country that their work was just beginning.  The Space Shuttle had to get into orbit, and then dock with the space station, carry out their mission, and then return.

I just kind of chilled out in the Tweetup tent and spent some time out on the grass in front of the countdown clock reflecting on an amazing experience.

It’s funny to think all of this came about because of Twitter, a service that so many people don’t want to join because they think it’s people talking about what they had for lunch

(Screencap:  Twitter search for “just ate a sandwich”)

But without Twitter, I never would have seen a Shuttle launch from the press site.  And a big thanks to Stephanie at NASA who put this whole thing together!  I mean, she gave me a second once-in-a-lifetime experience.  And who knows?  With two more Shuttle launches, maybe there’s a third once-in-a-lifetime experience waiting for me?