I was one of the lucky 100 to be picked to attend the STS-132 NASA Tweetup at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. For those who don’t know, a tweetup is a gathering of Twitter users, usually folks who are interested in a particular subject. In this case, our common interest was human space flight. Ours was a dedicated group of space geeks, each paying our own way to Houston to participate. We were treated to a behind the scenes tour of the home of human space flight, ranging from Mission Control to the NBL, SVMF to the Saturn V.
To say the least, I was excited. More to the point, I was so excited I only slept for four hours the night before the event.
Arriving at Space Center Houston (JSC’s Visitor Center) at about 0800, I saw a bunch of folks waiting out front. Walking up, I was pleased to begin meeting my fellow space tweeps. I know everybody thinks Twitter is used exclusively by teenagers, but the attendees were folks of all ages and walks of life. We had people from many different states as well as the UK, Hong Kong, Australia, India, and Sweden. In my book the travel award went to the folks who drove 27 hours straight to be there, participated in the days events, then turned around and drove straight back to their home in Utah. Sure, I cam in from the Bay Area for the day, but their trip was true commitment.
Headed in to the auditorium where our day was to begin, I got to play with a space suit glove and a sample of tile from the Space Shuttle’s Thermal Protection System. At that point, I was in heaven, but the day was going to get even better. I took a front row seat and plugged in my computer. I brought a power strip and several fellow tweeps joined in using the electrons it supplied.
Before the program began, we had the chance to ask questions via twitter to Astronaut Ron Garan (@Astro_Ron). He was gracious and funny. We were lucky to get to spend this virtual time with him. He’s since flown to Russia to train for his upcoming mission to the ISS.
After the traditional welcomes from NASA, including John Yembrick (@yembrick) and Ellen Ochoa, Deputy JSC Director and former astronaut, we got under way. Our first presentation was on the Shuttle and Station’s Ku-Band communication system. Two days prior, two astronauts had put a spare Ku-Band antenna on the ISS, so it was a fitting start. Those who know me have heard me complain about presentations on space not being technical enough, focusing on broad topics rather than getting in to the nitty gritty. This was not the case with our lead off presentation. The powerpoint was filled with flow charts and diagrams and was the detailed information I am always looking for. Seeing this, I felt the latitude to ask my geeky, technical questions all day, and was very pleased to do so. This was an incredibly great thing for me. Also, I was very proud of my fellow tweeps, because we asked many questions that were answered with a, “I can’t go in to that.’ Our presenter was trying to hide anything, we were just asking questions that were very technical…
Next up was Astronaut Jeff Williams (@Astro_Jeff), who ended his six month stint as ISS commander in March. He’s spent just about one year in space on two trips to the ISS. He was scheduled to spend 45 minutes with us, but ended up spending an hour and a half. He started with a 20 minute video, which he narrated for us, then took questions. Some of the questions were about living in space, some were about being an astronaut, some were technical, and some were about space policy. He answered all with humor and grace.
Because Jeff spent so much time with us, we had a short lunch break and then boarded our buses (a tram in my case) to head to Mission Control. We entered Building 30 and headed to the White Flight Control room, where they control shuttle missions. We took our seats in the viewing room and were greeted by Ed Van Cise (@carbon_flight) one of the ISS Flight Directors. I was in heaven. Visiting Mission Control had always been a dream for me and was amazing. Ed gave us a little background and then answered our questions. He gave us a tour of the control room, telling us the purpose of each console and how they worked. He talked to us about the history and culture of flight control. I was in heaven. I had always wanted to visit Mission Control. I was looking down on the flight controllers actively guiding a shuttle flight in progress.
I got to meet Holly Griffith (@absolutspacegrl), who I’ve followed on twitter for a while. She spent her whole day with us, even though she had to go to work in flight control at 1800. She answered questions and gave us the inside scoop, it was awesome.
After the White FCR, we headed to FCR 2, which is where the latter Gemini, all of the Apollo, and early shuttle missions were controlled from. I sat in the Flight Director’s seat where Gene Krantz sat during the landing of Apollo 11 on the moon. I held the “Oh Shit” handles on the consoles. I was in heaven. Ed gave us some more history and we then were free to roam and take pictures. It was great to spend some time in this historic room. I could have stayed in that building all day, if not longer. Alas, we had to head out.
Our next stop was the Space Vehicle Mock Up facility, where the astronauts train in live size mockups of the ISS and Shuttle. It was amazing to be there. Some of the folks from an earlier JSC Tweetup (STS-130) got to crawl around in the mockups, but there were astronauts training when we were there, bah 🙂 Astronaut Stephen Robinson talked to us while we were on the shuttle side of the building. Steve talked to us about training, his flights to space, and what its like to be an astronaut. It was awesome to talk to him in particular because he’s the only astronaut in the history of the program to do a repair on the heat shield of a spacecraft (STS-114). He described that experience to us in detail, which was cool.
We then headed over to the ISS side of the building and were greeted by Clay Anderson (@Astro_Clay) who I watched launch into space on STS-131 in April. Clay is a smart and very funny guy. He told us about his shuttle missions and his time on the ISS. He walked us around the various parts of the station, showed us the Soyuz mockup and talked to us about living in space. He’s proud to say that he has used the restroom in three different space vehicles (Discovery, Atlantis, and the ISS) and gave us some great trivia (the orbiter is as long as the Wright Brothers first flight at Kitty Hawk). Gettint to meet clay was especially awesome because I saw in launch on STS-131. As I said in my post about that experience, it is something that I will never forget.
From there we went to the Neutral Buoyancy Facility, where they train underwater for space walks. It’s a giant pool, 200 feet long, 100 feet wide, and 40 feet deep. There are 6.5 million gallons of crystal clear water in that pool. As it was 90 degrees outside with about 60% humidity, I wish I could have taken a quick swim. The last person to do so without permission was a drunk Russian diplomat. Needless to say it was not allowed.
After the NBL, we headed back to Space Center Houston and hit the gift shop.
In the evening, a smaller group met up at a local restaurant. We hung put and talked about our day. Our conversations were highlighted by a love of space and an enthusiasm for exploration. We were lucky enough to be joined by four astronauts Mark Kelly (@ShuttleCDRKelly), Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly), Stephen Robinson, and Dan Burbank. It was great to talk to these guys on a one on one basis and they were gracious enough to let us get some pictures as well. There were several highlights of the evening, in no particular order:
1. One of our NASA hosts, Lucie Delheimer (@LucieD_inthesky) sponsored a NASA Acronym contest. The challenge was to compose a full sentence using nothing but NASA acronyms. Steve and Dan were the judges and I was ecstatic that they picked my entry (ET TLM I/F BIT REOD) as the winner. I’ll take guesses as to what it stands for in the comments.
2. At 2038, the ISS and Atlantis did a 6 minute flyover. It was so amazing to see the station and shuttle together flying over head after spending a day learning about how they’re supported on the ground.
3. Shortly thereafter, the Hubble Space Telescope flew over as well. HST has alwys been a favorite NASA project of mine, not only because of its amazing scientific prowess and discoveries, but for the effort that we as a nation put in to developing and repairing this wonderful asset.
All in all, it was a wonderful day, filled with excitement and pure joy. I’m going to talk about what the visit meant to me in another entry, but I’ve been working on this one for a couple of days now and want to get it posted.
Thanks to all of our NASA hosts for putting this wonderful event on. I know I’m forgetting some, but here’s a try anyway @yembrick, @bethbeck, @LucieD_inthesky, @absolutspacegrl , @txflygirl, @GodspeedDiscvry, @schierholz, @Carbon_Flight, @amikokauderer, and many more.