Tag Archives: Tweetup

No launch, but time well spent

Ill blows the wind that profits nobody.

–Henry VI, part III, scene 2

After two days of anticipation, the Delta II rocket with the GRAIL satellites were still sitting on Launch Complex 17.

While the rains held off and the sun was shining, strong upper-level winds kept NASA from launching the mission on Thursday, to the dismay of the 150 people attending the space agency’s 25th Tweetup. The mission was rescheduled for Friday morning and quickly postponed again for technical reasons.

It finally launched on Saturday. I wasn’t there. I’m back home, back to everyday life.  Being at NASA was a lot more fun. But the experience over those two days was good enough to say I’d probably do it again someday.

We got to see things and meet people that most Americans — even the most enthusiastic of space geeks — rarely get the chance to do. I saw good things AND bad things. Here’s a sample of both:

Good: We were able to explore the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building, the huge structure built to assemble Apollo moon rockets. It was empty, of personnel and projects, save for one corner. Behind a single chain link fence, not 30 feet away, the shuttle Endevour sat parked, as a handful of workers milled about.

Bad: Endevour was being gutted, in preparation for its final trip to the California Science Center in Los Angeles, where it will sit on display. Much of the airframe between the front windows and its nose, where thrusters and avionics once sat, was missing. The ship looked tired. I think aircraft look best when they’re ready to fly. This reminded me of an autopsy table.

Good: Our next stop was the Complex 39 Press Site, where thousands of journalists covered manned spaceflight since the 1960s. I hadn’t been there since covering a launch in 1984 and it brought back a lot of memories.

Bad: Since the shuttle program is over, the site is essentially abandoned. The grassy area around the famous countdown clock is overgrown with weeds. The clock itself is rusting and in disrepair. Buildings erected by the Associated Press,  CBS and others, look deserted.

NASA is undergoing the brutal Darwinian crunch that the rest of the nation is experiencing. The agency is becoming a shell of its former self; dealing with smaller and smaller budgets, and more and more criticism by people who don’t understand the larger picture.

Since the shuttle program was retired this spring, the U.S. is incapable of getting people to space for the first time in 50 years. This is huge, people.

NASA is doing the science it can with the money it has been given and it’s doing some real good work. But without high-profile manned missions, it will be harder to catch the public’s attention and harder to prove its value to the nation and the world. It’s relying on space geeks, like those of us attending the Tweetup, to spread the word through social media. While that’s smart and budget-friendly, I’m just not sure how effective it is.

In times like these — especially in times like these — we need NASA. We need to dream, to accomplishing something even beyond our imaginations. Something audacious and gutsy. Something American.

As JFK said, we do these things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. That’s the American spirit I grew up with. Are we up to the challenge?

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Twitterazzi arriving

The 150 people invited to the Kennedy Space Center for tomorrow’s launch of the Grail mission to the moon are gathering in the rain outside the Visitors Complex. Even though registration started at 7 a.m., you can’t actually go inside until 8:30 a.m. Not sure why, really.

A very full day ahead. I’ll blog (and Tweet, of course) when interesting things happen.

20110907-080727.jpg

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A small step for a Tweep

Since I’ve had this blog, I’ve covered a few subjects – media, primarily, and few recent posts on youth baseball. (A blog should focus on one subject, I know. )

NASA logoBut here comes a new topic: NASA and the geeks who love it.

I’ve been picked as one of 150 Twitter users worldwide to attend what’s known as a Tweetup; an event where Twitter users actually congregate in one place and presumably Tweet about it. This NASA Tweetup revolves around a science mission called GRAIL, set to launch from the Kennedy Space Center Sept. 8, sending twin satellites to orbit the moon for six months. From NASA:

“The Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission will create the most accurate gravitational map of the moon to date, improving our knowledge of near-side gravity by 100 times and of far-side gravity by 1000 times. The high-resolution gravitational field, especially when combined with a comparable-resolution topographical field, will enable scientists to deduce the moon’s interior structure and composition, and to gain insights into its thermal evolution — that is, the history of the moon’s heating and cooling, which opens the door to understanding its origin and development.”

NASA started doing Tweetups a couple of years ago to increase its presence in social media. The Twitterazzi get a two-day pass. The day before the launch they get a special tour of the space center, talk to scientists involved in the mission and see the launch up close the next day. It’s not media credentials but probably the next best thing.

Sally Ride

Sally Ride

Highlight: Former astronaut Sally Ride will reportedly be at the Tweetup. She’ll be promoting her project, Sally Ride Science, geared toward middle school students. There will be cameras aboard the GRAIL satellites that kids will be able to direct to take photos of specific areas of the lunar surface.

I covered Ride’s first shuttle flight, STS-7 in June 1983, and her second and last flight in 1984. Ride was the third woman to go into space;

Valentina Tereshkova

Valentina Tereshkova

Valentina Tereshkova was the first, in June 1963, and Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982. Savitskaya flew again in 1984 and became the first woman to walk in space. Both Russian women went into politics after their space careers.

I’ll be blogging (and Tweeting, or course) leading up to the Sept. 7-8 Tweetup. Follow me at @Jim_DeLa.

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