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All Things Considered, Science is Emotional #NASATweetup

May 4, 2011   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Fun, Social Networking, Space, Speaking  //  2 Comments
KSC Countdown Clock - Karen Lopez

KSC Countdown Clock

 

I haven’t blogged yet about my NASA Tweetup experiences, for the most part because I’m worried about coming across as too emotional about the entire experience.  As I previously posted, I’m attending a special NASA program that brings 150 Twitter users from around the world to Kennedy Space Center to watch the launch of the Shuttle Endeavour on her last mission, STS-134.   I started this post hoping to keep it as a short overview.  It’s not.     

Pre-Tweetup – Level Green

The launch was originally scheduled for mid-April, then that was moved to 29 April due to a traffic jam in space.  No worries. I arrived here in Florida on 26 April.  Wednesday I picked up my credentials and then went over to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to add to my space brain, the term I’ve been using for being inundated with science about space exploration. I also met up with my house mates of Venus House for the first time.       

Thursday – Level Orange

Thursday we headed over to Kennedy Space Center (KSC) to get settled in the Tweetup Tent (affectionately referred to as the twent).  I new we were going to be close to the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building, but I had no idea we’d be parking right next to it. That was just awe-inspiring.  There we met our fellow Tweetup attendees.  We started with the obligatory “everybody introduce yourselves, tell us where you are from and something interesting about you”.  Crap.  Interesting? Okay, I’ll say that I’m a…well, let’s wait to see what everyone else says.  I was sitting on the far end, near the air conditioners.  They started on the other side.  As people stood up to say who they were I sat there stunned by the number of accomplishments and backgrounds.   Quick…what the hell can I say that is interesting? Somehow “I like data” just didn’t seem to be that interesting with this group.  Attendees came from all walks of life: 3 -time Jeopardy champion, Internet company founders, Twitter staff, rocket scientists, TV and film stars, musicians, pilots, journalists…well, you can read what most said about themselves at http://nasatweet.com/wiki/STS134_Fun_facts …but I think that most people were a bit too humble about their interesting things.     So I finally settled on “I’m a former national spokesperson for Women in IT. I help encourage girls to take more science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)”  That seemed to go over well, with this crowd being STEM friendly.  I mentioned that I had brought the technical Barbies with me to enjoy the launch, too.  I was already starting to have the overwhelming feeling that this Tweetup was going to be something like I’ve never experienced before.  Emotions were at Alert Level Orange by that point.            

Kennedy Space Center VAB - Karen Lopez

Kennedy Space Center VAB

 

We did a tour of the KSC property, including the inside of the VAB.  There we got to see Atlantis being prepped for her last voyage soon after Endeavour’s trip.  Did I tell you we got to go inside? That’s insane.  There aren’t normal tours for going inside the VAB.   I guess to other people it’s just where they work.  For me it was just amazing.  I need to find another word.  Someone find me a thesaurus.    

Thursday was a full program of speakers from NASA, including astronauts and staff.  More on that later.  We were supposed to go out near the pad to watch the retraction, but freaky storm weather cancelled that.  My first disappointment.  Emotions still at Level Orange, but barely.             

Friday – Level Red

The Astronaut Van makes right turn instead of a left turn

The Saddest Right Turn...

 

 On Friday we headed back over to KSC ready to experience an opportunity of a lifetime — to see the launch from just over 3 miles away. To put this in perspective, if you were 400 yards from the launch the heat and flame would kill you.  If you were 800 yards from the launch, the sound would kill you.  So 3 miles is close.  It’s as close as non-workers can get. Emotion Levels were Reddish Orange, sort of like a tequila sunrise. I set up my tripod to reserve a space.  Right next to a tripod from an international camera crew.  My tripod looked sad next to theirs, but it was setup and ready to go.  More exciting program inside the twent happened, and I’ll post pictures of that in a later post.    

Every presenter over the two days spoke of the emotion and the feeling of awe of what they did for a living.  It was all about STEM, but overall the most blow-me-away thoughts were about humanity, peace, the meaning of life, and…emotions.   As each person spoke, I could see the passion they had about the work they did;  they were changing the world and they loved every minute of it.         

Sadly, as Rob blogged, the launch was scrubbed about noon on Friday due to a mechanical failure.  We were terribly disappointed, but all of us understood that safety first is the key phrase.  We watched the Astronaut Van drive slowly past, it made an unexpected turn into the VAB drive.  We were hoping that it was just making a special drive by of the special observation area, but it wasn’t to be.  I was interviewed by NPR’s All Things Considered about this disappointment.  I found out that interview made it to the air because people all over the US started tweeting that they heard me on their drives home from work.  How wonderful is that?   

I have to say that seeing that Astro Van take a turn when it wasn’t supposed to was heartbreaking.  It wasn’t a crushing blow because I was by then riding a full RED ALERT emotionally already.  I had experienced so many amazing things up to then it didn’t matter.  The launch would happen when Endeavour was ready for it to happen.              

Later in the afternoon President Obama arrived, even though the launch had been scrubbed, to meet the astronauts and their families.  We were able to wave to him as he waved back at us, a bunch of Twitter Space-crazed photographers.              

NASA Tweeps get Engaged at the Countdown Clock

NASA Tweeps get Engaged at the Countdown Clock

 

And then there was more: NASA Tweetup attendee Chris Cardinal proposed to attendee Nina Tallman, right in front of the Countdown Clock.  As a fellow geek, that was so amazing to see.   My emotions were now just going crazy.  I took a bazillion pictures.         

Most of us stayed in the twent, listening to ad hoc program presentations, chatting about everything that had been happening so far, and talking about making extended travel arrangements.   We looked forward to a launch in the next 48 hours.  All was fine. 

Saturday – SQLSaturday

When the scrub was announced, Kendal van Dyke (twitter and another former NASATweetup attendee) reminded me there was a SQLSaturday happening in Jacksonville.  I caught a ride with him and two other great SQL community members Bradley Ball (twitter) and Dan Taylor( twitter).  So I got to spend time with the rocking SQL Community at the last minute.  What a great opportunity. For the ride back we were all really tired and we had great gut-busting laughs, the kind that are hilarious if you are tired, entirely stoked from being with a great community and punchy from getting only a couple of hours of sleep.  Thanks, guys, for taking care of me and the Technical Barbies.  Oh, and for letting me be part of your SQLRoadtrip.      

Now – Back to Tequila Red Orange

I have many photos and blog posts to share and am struggling with how to not overly spam this blog with them. I have lots of potential blog posts that talk about data, project management, decisions, and costs, benefits and risks.  But my main concern is that I’m still GUSHING with emotions and I don’t think my posts will come across as anything but completely insane.  I’ve been struggling with this post, trying not to fill it with #FTW #AWESOMESAUCE #ZOMG and 10,000 exclamation points.  Did I tell you have pictures?        

I so wish I could have taken every single girl that I talk to about taking more science, technology, math and engineering along with me to see an hear just how freaking rewarding STEM careers are.  I’d show them how these careers change the world and make lives better.  I’d show them the fabulous role models, how much fun they have, and how being in a community of insanely smart people can make every minute count.  

As I am putting the finishing touches on this, NASA just announced that the current date (more about that coming, too) will be pushed back again.  I was doing okay travel-wise because I was already planning on being in Orlando for SQLRally on this Saturday.  Staying over a few extra days was cheaper and easier, so that’s what I’m doing.  As of right now, it will be later and not 10 May as last announced.  You know what? I’m still at EMOTION LEVEL RED…ish.  All things considered.        

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