June 7, 2020

Attack of the Smartphones: A NASATweetup at the Johnson Space Flight Center!

We came, we saw, we tweeted profusely… last month’s Tweetup at the Johnson Spaceflight Center was a resounding success. Only the fourth official NASA tweetup ever held, this was the first at the JSC and the first attended by Astroguyz. What follows is a sort of after-action report, both of the JSC and the world of space-tweeting in general;

We first got into Twitter last year, mostly out of curiosity and as a way to hype the blog. Like many others, we were skeptical; what could the possible use of “micro-blogging” be to serious science journalism? Like many new technologies, we believe Twitter has now found its niche; as a sort of “instant alert system,” it surpasses RSS feeds as a more fluid and dynamic form of information flow. Granted; much of Twitter, like the Internet as a whole, is un-information; plenty of users have nothing more insightful to add to the sum of human knowledge than what their cat did today. Still, many crucial comet and asteroid discoveries have brought themselves to our attention first via Twitter; the site has even been data-mined to track flu outbreaks and seismic activity, and doubtless, other uses will be found…

So, how does a “Tweetup” work? Well, as the name suggests, avid followers of NASA and the space program are selected to attend a particular launch or event with a goal of creating a media “buzz” surrounding a topic. NASA has been very smart to take advantage of the new technology emerging with social media; this assures they remain on the cutting edge with the younger, more tech-savvy generation. Being a rocket scientist isn’t a prerequisite for selection; many tweeters ranged from PhDs to the just plain curious. In fact, if the avidness of these space buffs were any indication, there is a large slice of the public out there that the Tiger Woods-chasing media isn’t engaging. These fans know their stuff; from who flew what STS mission to payload weights dry and loaded, Twitter fans of NASA kept engineers on their toes!

The day dawned cool but sunny, a fine Houston Texas day. Along with a talk and a question answer period with astronaut Robert (“Dr Bones”) Satcher, we were given nearly unrestricted access to the JSC complex. It was awesome, as one anonymous participant put it, to be “on the other side of the glass, for once…” doubtless, several tourists looking at us may have wondered; just who were those folks that were getting to climb into the shuttle trainers?
fter lunch, our on-foot tour started at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL). Contained in the Sony Carter Training Facility, this houses the largest indoor swimming pool in the world. It is used to conduct zero g training for astronauts, or as my wife put it, “that pool from the movie Armageddon…” I wisely didn’t ask them were the aliens were really kept…  the NBL, along with the “Vomit Comet,” is a primary zero-g trainer, but unlike the Comet, which can simulate zero g for mere minutes, the NBL can be utilized for hours, and can house huge simulators such as the shuttle payload bay or the Hubble Space telescope.

After the NBL, it was on to the Shuttle and ISS simulators. The highlight here was actually getting to climb into the shuttle cockpit; it’s not as big as you might imagine! In fact, the entire living space inside a Shuttle between mid-deck and flight isn’t much more than a large bedroom…

We also got to see a Soyuz module that had been to the ISS and back, as well as engineers in their natural habitat. But the grand finale was yet to come at the Mission Control Center, which is the heart of the JSC. There, we were given a tour of the old Mission Control, were so much of the drama of the manned spaceflight program has played out over the last half a century. It was fascinating to see how they worked in a pre-Internet age; seemly innocuous canisters were used to deliver messages throughout the building via pneumatic tube, all still in place!

Of course, a modern day, wired for tech Mission Control exists as well. We were fortunate that shuttle Endeavour and STS-130 was docked to the ISS while the tweetup was underway. We were treated to two live events; the astronaut wake-up call, and a live call in from president Obama to the astronauts (unfortunately, he acknowledged, but did not take questions from the Twitter contingent!)

All told, a good day was had by all, we got to do some serious networking (no one looks like their icon!), and some righteous NASA swag was doled out. Most of ours found its way to a local school classroom, but we hung on to the ISS calendar and the reporters’ notebook for its sheer wealth of information. Its also just plain cool to have a media badge with “Astroguyz” on it to hang on our board…

Off course, it’s somewhat sad to think what could become of the JSC, should we enter another “lean decade” for manned space exploration. True, the ISS will be there to keep controllers occupied, but seats via the Russians may get harder to come by for our astronaut core…

In the end, I would definitely urge the curious to apply for any and all NASA tweetups in the future… keep an eye on the boards, as Tweetup entries frequently come and go within a 48 hour period. Also, NASAtweetup and the NASA site in general  are good Twitter sites to be following, as are the multitude of Spacetweeps and the Space Tweep Society page .

What to bring? That was the topic of many a frenzied tweet in the days leading up to the NASAtweetup; I brought our laptop, DSLR, video camera, and new Blackberry; I used ‘em all, but was glad to ditch the laptop for the tour portion. The Blackberry proved to be indispensible; I probably could have survived the day with only it in hand. Do think about carrying a portable charger; I noticed many a Tweep with that “where’s the nearest outlet?” stare about mid-afternoon. My slim pocket Duracell charger served me well for the duration. And please, check all that new fangled, gotta-have-it-for-the-Tweetup gear for usability/functionality before departing on that next NASAtweetup mission, just like the astronauts do! Now, to stand vigil for that next elusive Twitter-fest , hopefully a launch gathering near the Astroguyz backyard, i.e. somewhere along the Florida Space Coast…


  1. [...] week and the NASAtweetup! Fans of this space will note that we attended our first Tweetup at the Johnson Space Flight Center in March. While that was a stellar session, we’d always wanted to do a launch event, and not be [...]

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