Wednesday, July 6, 2011

NASA Tweetup Pt 1: Heading Out

Things have been really busy recently, and I haven’t had a chance to write a post about an important recent development: I got into the NASA Tweetup for the final space shuttle launch!!!!

Over the next three days, I’m going to be meeting all sorts space nerds, scientists, astronauts, and the administrators who make the launches happen. We’re going to take behind-the-scenes tours of Kennedy Space Center, and watch the shuttle launch from 3 miles away (in the press area.) Only 150 of NASA’s Twitter followers were selected to attend this event, so it’s quite a privilege and honor to be able to go.

A little bit of background: the last shuttle launch is scheduled to take place at 11:26am, Eastern Time. The Atlantis (named not after the mythical city, but rather after a research vessel from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute between 1930 and 1966) will be making a 12 day mission to deliver cargo to the Space Station: mainly,  the Multi-purpose Logistics Module called Raffaello. This is a pressurized container filled with stuff; in this case, equipment and supplies to provision the Space Station after the Shuttle Program ends. It’s also going to carry up an experimental gadget designed to robotically refuel satellites while in orbit, an autonomous docking gadget, and carry some broken pieces of the Space Station back down to Earth.

Until a week ago, I was uncertain how to make it all work out. Switching shifts when working in a customer service position can be really tough: no one wants to be that jerk who left the visitor center short-staffed, annoying coworkers and bosses alike. My car had a minor breakdown, but for a spell I couldn’t figure out how I’d get to Boise. Both payday and the Flight Readiness Review (one of the final checks before officially setting the launch date) were on the 28th, so I was biting my nails that day. For various reasons, my ticket got booked for the wrong return date – another problem to deal with.

(Note: buying a plane ticket a week in advance prompts the airline to have the stewardesses come check you out personally. Their fears of rampant delinquency were quickly allayed when they realized that the seats surrounding me were filled with National Guardsmen. Who could make any sort of trouble when surrounded by soldiers with guns?)

Because of all the shift-switching, I worked eight 9-hour days in a row, and finally got into Boise last night at 2:30am, where I managed to catch a couple hours sleep in the parking lot of the local Wallmart, before waking up at 4:30a to get to the airport.

Right now, I’m delayed in the Phoenix airport, but hopefully soon I’ll trade this lovely scene:

P6221216

for this one:

atlantisNASA

Is all this trouble (and money) worth the possibility of seeing a space shuttle launch? Totally. I’m so excited I could spit, and the reality hasn’t even really sunk in yet. I’m probably going to cry.

Even if it doesn’t launch, I’m sure I’ll still have a great time geeking out about space, shuttles, and NASA with other like-minded people. I’m staying in one of the group houses, right near the Atlantic ocean (!!) and going to the Everglades post-launch, so it should be a really great experience no matter what.

But I really hope the Shuttle launches as planned!