STS135 and the NASA Tweetup. I’m Freaking Going!

I’m not a engineer, or scientist of any sort and certainly not a proverbial “rocket scientist,” which worked out fine, as most of the things I’ve accomplished in life fall into the category of “it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.”

Nonetheless, I’ve been selected to attend a NASA Tweetup and if all goes well have the best seat in the house to watch the space shuttle Atlantis launch on July 8, 2011. Tweetups, for those who don’t know, are get-togethers IRL (in real life) organized by people who are on Twitter who normally only communicate to each other on the internet. I’ve been to lots of tweetups. Mostly organized as get-togethers for drinks or lunch in New Orleans. I’ve met a lot of good people through these things.

I was late in the game learning about the NASA tweetups, not really hearing about them until Leigh, one of our local bloggers (Liprap’s Lament) attended Endeavour’s launch last month (her posts are here). A couple of weeks ago, she tweeted that it was the last day to sign up for next NASA tweetup and posted a link. I decided what the hell, signed up, and last Friday got the email that I had been selected.

Now, everyone who’s been chosen has been whooping and hollering and jumping for joy. They’re big fans: engineers, teachers, scientists and students who’ve been waiting for this chance and applying forever.  My reaction was, wow, great. Now what am I going to do?

It’s not that I don’t realize the enormity of the situation. It’s the last space shuttle launch. Ever. I was one of only 150 people out of about 5200 who applied. And now that I’ve got some arrangements made and financing in place, I’m beginning to get to the whooping and hollering stage myself.

I’m not a scientist or teacher, I’m a writer. It’s going to be a great story. And I’m a fan. Here’s my space story so far and I’m ready to write the next chapter.

I vaguely remember (I would have been 4 or 5) watching one of the Gemini missions launch on our black-and-white TV. In first grade, my brother and I built a model Saturn V rocket that was taller than both of us. That was all normal kid stuff back then, but why I’m starting to get psyched for the NASA tweetup is this: I was THIS (tiny pinched fingers) close to watching Apollo 11 launch but wasn’t quite there and I have ALWAYS wanted to see a launch since that disappointment as a 7-year old.

We were living in New Iberia, Louisiana and my dad was great at piling us all into the Country Squire and going on a long vacation every year. The summer of 1969 happened to be a Florida vacation. We were in Fort Walton when Apollo 11 launched and then traveled to Miami, where I fell asleep in front of the TV what must have been just a few minutes (I tried so hard to stay awake) before Neil Armstrong took his one small step and his giant leap all in one breath.

Update: Mom called. She says she woke all of us kids up when Armstrong was first setting foot on the moon. I must not remember it. She also says she made sure my older brother was looking at the TV when Alan Shepard launched (from his crib, he would have only been about 7 months old at the time). Plus, she said, going to the Apollo 11 launch was never in the plans.

I never found out why we didn’t go to Cape Kennedy to watch the launch. Maybe they felt it was too much to handle with all the crowds and three very ill-behaved children. Maybe it was just the timing. I don’t know. I was still a fan, though, and watched all the Apollo launches after that.

In 1981, I was a freshman at college and anticipated the first shuttle launch. I remember dreaming the night before the launch that I was at the launch and that I watched it launch but that it blew up in sky. That wasn’t really a premonition of Challenger; there was a lot of talk about the untried technology and how that was a possibility which must have crept into my dream. Needless to say, I was very happy nothing like that happened.

In 1984 I was working in a camera store in New Orleans doing photo processing. One of our customers worked at Michoud, where the shuttle’s main fuel tank was manufactured.  He had gotten VIP employee access to one of the launches and let me keep a copy of one of his photos. His description of what it was like to feel the launch planted the seed, that one day I would go witness a launch.

I kept up with the shuttle as best as a twenty-something with a lot on his plate could do, but it is Challenger, unfortunately, that is the next thing that sticks in my mind. I remember that day. I was back at LSU. It was cold, I had ridden my bike to class. In class, I wondered if my mom was watching the launch because she was a teacher and this was the one with the teacher in space. I decided I’d go straight home and catch the replay and when I got home and turned on the TV it was the replay, the replay of those two pillars of smoke coming out of those two boosters as they started to fly uncontrollably apart. It took a few seconds and I still hadn’t realized what had happened when Dan Rather’s voice kicked in to tell me. Later I learned that my mom’s class (I think she was teaching kindergarten then) had not been watching the launch.

After that, graduation, work and life happened. The shuttle returned and became, once again, routine.

In 2002, I was reading about an upcoming shuttle launch. I thought, I have some extra time. There’s nothing stopping me from driving down there and watching a launch. And I was ready to do it, too, only to hear about some problems and a very long launch delay that went past my personal window of opportunity. Then the Columbia tragedy the next year, and I pretty much put any thought of going out of my mind.

So that brings me to now. And I’ve been picked to see the last launch and meet the people who have made it all happen and meet the people whose tweets and Facebook postings I’ve now been following. And I’ll get to write about it, too, for my day job. I think I’m starting to get a little tingly. And thanks, Leigh!

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4 Responses to STS135 and the NASA Tweetup. I’m Freaking Going!

  1. judyb on June 16, 2011 at 7:52 pm

    After working at Michoud for almost 30 years, the end of the Space Shuttle Program – with no successor in sight – is heart breaking for me. All of the contributions that the past 50 years of research and science have given us seems to be unappreciated by the current Congress and White House. Yes, NASA’s messed up administratively, as is Congress. But to just draw a line in the sand and pay the Russians $60M/launch to give our astronauts a ride to the ISS is insane.

    I hope you enjoy your tweetup. Watching a Space Shuttle launch is one of the most exhiliarating (sp) events.

  2. Pete on June 16, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    Thanks, Judy.
    Michoud and the people who worked there were such a big part of the New Orleans area for as long as I remember. Its decline is another sad reminder that, as one commenter noted, “our high-priced tourist destination and movie set was once a thriving business center,” and I’d add, center of technological and engineering marvels.

  3. liprap on June 16, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    I am so, so happy you’re getting the chance to go. Enjoy every second. And make sure you head to Shuttles Bar on State Road 3 afterwards. 😎

  4. termite on June 17, 2011 at 10:18 am

    we expect a full report with plenty of pictures. 😀

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