Saturday, May 1, 2010

NASA Tweetup for STS-132

A few weeks ago I applied for the NASA Tweetup Event at the Kennedy Space Center for the May 14 launch of STS-132. I figured it was a long shot at best as the event is limited to 150 people. I also am not one of those people prone to such luck.

The registration period is limited to 72 hours. Within 12 hours of the registration period closing I received an email from NASA notifying me that I had been placed on a waiting list for the event. It didn’t tell me what number I was on the list just that I was on the waiting list. I assumed that was the end of it. The Tweetup provides access to areas off limits to the general public and since there are only 2 more shuttle flights after this one I assumed the line would be a mile long to get in. The only thing I had on my side was the schedule. Aside from our 11th wedding anniversary that weekend was clear.

Yesterday, much to my surprise, I received a confirmation email from NASA stating I had been accepted and my registration had been confirmed. Either a lot of people were unable to confirm their attendance or I was close to the top of the waiting list but either way my registration has been accepted.

Today I received a rather lengthy email from NASA with the details of the event. This is going to be so cool! I have wanted to see a shuttle flights since I was in elementary school and now I get to see one of the final flights. If you don’t catch STS-132 this month, STS-133 in September or STS-134 in November then in order to see a manned space flight in the foreseeable future you will have to go to Russia. STS-134 is the final shuttle flight and then the fleet will be retired. As of now the United States does not have another manned vehicle option ready. The politics of that can be discussed another time in another post.

Here are some highlights of the event:
  • We get to watch the launch from the press site, which is closed to the general public. This is where the famous countdown clock is located. NASA provides us with an air conditioned tent Wi-Fi access, tables, power, and monitors to watch and listen to all the live missions control and NASA TV feeds. This location is only 3.2 miles from the launch pad. The closest public viewing is the NASA Causeway near Titusville, FL at 6 miles away. While they specify that we will have access to this area they ask that we refrain from walking directly in front of the clock so we don’t get in the line-of-shots for the news organizations that will be setup as well.  The launch is scheduled for 2:20pm EDT.
  • We attend a 2 hour program and interaction with NASA shuttle technicians, engineers, astronauts and managers.
  • A bus tour of the space center.
  • On launch day they will have more speakers and visitors for us but they emphasize that we will have free time prior to the launch. 
  • Normally the tour and launch viewing access cost. As part of the Tweetup those things are free.
According to the Tweetup website, “The goal of NASA Tweetups is to allow people who regularly interact with each other via Twitter to meet in person and discuss one of their favorite subjects: NASA.” As such they mention on the things to bring list that we are to bring our laptops and favorite tweeting devices and chargers. They also point out that we should ensure our devices are fully charged for the tour portion as remote power will not be available but is available at the Tweetup tent and during the launch itself.

Aside from the dates working out well I also have amply frequent flier miles allowing me to get a variable date ticket. This should allow me to modify my departure and return dates based on the status of the shuttle launch. NASA states that in the event of a scrub we will be invited to the second launch attempt. They do not state what will happen if there is more than one launch attempt that is scrubbed. That should be interesting. Knowing my luck, well, let’s not go there.

My favorite part of the email confirmation is NASA’s Safety Statement:
Please be advised that hazards are inherent in launching and launch viewing of a space shuttle mission. By accepting the invitation to view the launch or landing you do so with the understanding of the potential risk. Although NASA applies stringent range safety principles and techniques to protect the general public, workforce and property for all areas of the Kennedy Space Center during launch, in the event of an inadvertent circumstance, hazards including debris, blast and toxics could occur.
It is imperative that you stay within controlled areas with your group and strictly follow all instructions provided by NASA. Although an accident during lift-off of the space shuttle is highly unlikely, some safety precautions are necessary. As is the case with the launch of a space vehicle, a potential danger exists from toxic vapors contained in any cloud formed as a result of a launch mishap. In the event of an accident, all persons at NASA's Kennedy Space Center should take shelter immediately in the nearest air-conditioned building.
This afternoon I submitted my request for credentials and agreed to a background check. Provided all that goes through you will be able to follow the Tweetup on Twitter @NASATweetup or @NASA. I will also be listed shortly on the official STS-132 Twitter list

Another side benefit is some of the tweeps that I will get to meet at the event. One in particular that stands out is @LanceUlanoff, the editor-in-chief of PC Magazine. All tech folks know that PC Magazine is like the bible of IT.

So, in keeping with NASA’s objective you will see more blog posts, photos, and tweets about this event as it approaches. Have I mentioned how cool this is!!!