NASA STS-129 Shuttle Launch TweetUp: Day 2
Once again my wife Cindy and I left our home around 5:30am and made the toll laden drive to NASA, this time bringing along my hi-def video equipment and tripod. Again we arrived about 15 minutes before we needed to be there, and again there were several other cars ahead of us waiting for the KARS ball field parking lot gate to open. When it did we parked in rows on the grass and had a bit of a tailgate party to kill the time until the buses arrived. By this point everyone was making friends and exchanging contact information.
Arnold Evens of FOX TV Dallas showed us he uses a OLPC (“One Laptop Per Child”) PC as his field equipment. Designed for use in 3rd world countries, it was a very good choice; long battery life, waterproof, durable plastic. I’ve thought of this myself, so it was very cool to see someone actually doing it. Many people had never seen one before so it became one of the topics of conversation during our tailgate party. In case you don’t know, you have the OLPC project to thank for the fact we now enjoy $200 netbooks.
Our Press Tent
The buses came and took us on a several mile trip to the NASA press area, located right next to the famous Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and the large launch countdown clock. There NASA had set up a special tent for us, again complete with WiFi, power strips, and large displays of broadcast and twitter feeds.
Everyone picked their locations and began their news broadcasting.
NASA gave presentations and answered questions while the launch progressed. We were currently in a 3hr hold, so this was a perfect time to walk around and take photos of the area around the tent, and the countdown clock.
All the TweetUp attendees gathered together for a group shot:
I must have said a hundred times that I couldn’t believe I was sitting on the grass next to the VAB building. While we were together, NASA was presented with a group signed poster as a thank you for inviting us to this event.
One of the podcasters in our group also took advantage of the opportunity and had us give a live cheer. I recorded this live on my cell phone.
Many of us, including Cindy, were interviewed by local press, podcasters, and film makers.
Most of the press that visited our group were more interested in the few people that traveled from other countries to be here today. I though it rather ironic that old media was interviewing the new media, and in several cases the new media was reporting on it back.
The Astronaut Wave
As the astronauts are driven to the launch site, it’s tradition for the van to stop by the press area so everyone can wave at them and wish them success. Days before the launch, the astronauts spend most of their time in isolation to prevent catching a cold and bringing it with them into space. This last stop could be the final time in their lives that they see other people should something go wrong with the mission, so it’s a very important sendoff. We were thrilled to be a part of it.
The van was accompanied by a security helicopter. The Astronauts are all suited up so they cannot leave the van.
We waved like crazy. NASA later told us we were the largest gathering of people to wave them off since the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. One of several reasons why this tweetup is now a part of NASA history.
As T minus zero minutes approached I went and staked out an area to set up my video equipment. Two different NASA people said I had to be in different places, so there was some relocating until I had a spot no one seemed to feel was in their way.
While I was setting up, my wife was still in the tent. NASA starting to hold drawings and giveaways. They gave away the TweetUp banners and other items. When my wife finally joined me on the grass, she was excited to say that she had won the sample of Aerogel they were displaying yesterday, so the one disappointment I had about not being able to see it was completely flipped around because now we owned it. Amazing.
Then the time arrived. The clock reached zero. The ship took off and everyone was surprised how emotional the experience was. The ground shook like an earthquake and the windows in the building behind us rattled loudly. Car alarms went off in the parking lot near us, and camera shutters clicked wildly.
It exceeded all expectations and was more impressive than I ever imagined. You can watch my video for yourself:
The NASA Coverage
NASA created a video highlighting the launch itself and the reactions of the people inside the TweetUp “twent”.
The Press Conference
After the launch we went back into the tent to put away our gear and wait out the formal press conference. The questions the main stream media were asking were pretty depressing; “What would have happened if nnnn failed”?, “how much did nnn cost?”. “What about the budgets?”… How could those people not have had the same experience we did? We just watched 6 people ride an explosion into space. Astronaut Mike Massimino yesterday had described the experience as like “a big beast grabbing a hold of you” and taking off, and you hope it knows where it’s going. All we TweetUp people could talk about was how amazing the launch was, that it was a perfect day for it, that it was an honor to wave them off, etc. The NASA staff actually turned off the monitors in the tent after a while and said it was far more fun to talk and listen to us!
John Yembrick and Beth Beck of NASA were wonderful people to meet and made this an incredible experience for everyone.
After it was all over, we took the long bus ride back to the cars, waved goodbye to Beth Beck (who was surrounded by tweeple still talking about the day), and quickly landed in slow-moving traffic for a long part of the trip. Everyone that had seen the launch, not just the tweetup people, were all leaving at the same time. It took us over 2 hours to finally make it home.
The photos on this article are only a sample. You can view the entire photo stream on Flickr.
[In the final article of this series I will discuss things that happened after the event, plus it's impact on main stream and social media, and on us - the attendees]
Note: UPDATED 12/7 to include the signed poster video and the NASA reaction video