OV101 to NYC Tweetup April 24, 2012Posted by craftlass in Enterprise, NASA, RogueTweetups, space, SpaceTweeps.
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New York area residents: We are about to get the coolest new neighbor to ever arrive in this area. I am, of course, talking about the prototype orbiter Enterprise, the vehicle that started the wonderful long-running Shuttle Transportation System program by proving you could actually glide back to the surface of the Earth in what’s lovingly dubbed a “flying brick”.
Last week I was lucky enough to be at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum to see Discovery (my favorite orbiter) arrive and Enterprise move out of the home where she has delighted visitors for many years. They are things of beauty beyond words, both of them, and I’m still marveling that one will be easily accessible right in the heart of the Hudson side of Manhattan.
In Virginia, NASA hosted a #NASASocial for that event but the incredible part was how many Space Tweeps showed up for what was dubbed the “Rogue Tweetup”. Approximately 200 tweeps (from what I can gather) joined in the celebrations and had a wonderful time meeting each other or seeing friends from previous tweetups, launches, and other gatherings.
The best part of the week, in my opinion, was not the day of the transfer of Discovery to the Smithsonian, but the day she flew over both her new home and the city of DC. Images of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft with her precious cargo over the Capitol, the Washington Monument, and other landmarks are stunning and oh, so poignant.
So, think about it: What’s the one backdrop even cooler than those landmarks? The New York City skyline!
As of now, the most accurate plans I’ve heard include flying up the Hudson River past our local landmarks like the Statue of Liberty and her future home on the Intrepid. With this in mind, tweetup ideas have been flying around and it’s time to make them official. As one tweep said, “You can either be in Manhattan and get New Jersey as the backdrop or you can be in New Jersey and get the skyline.” That made it obvious that the ideal location would be Pier A in Hoboken, easily reachable by PATH train from the city, is a major NJ Transit hub, and lacking in city tolls for anyone driving in from the suburbs and beyond (with big parking garages near the site).
The flight has been postponed several times already and is now planned for Friday, April 27th. The timing isn’t exact but I’ve been hearing it should be around 10 am – 1 pm, but Discovery was a half-hour early in DC, so I would plan to arrive between 9 and 9:30 to set up cameras and such. I will keep updating this page if things change again and with more plans as they are formed, so keep an eye on this or follow me or the hashtag #OV101toNYC on Twitter.
Let’s show this bird that New York is thrilled to have her! Sign up here so we can have a ballpark headcount and join the Facebook group if you want to discuss any further ideas. I’d like to do something to celebrate every stage of her arrival, so I will keep the group active until she is installed in her permanent home this fall, at least.
- What: OV-101 Enterprise NYC Flyover Tweetup
- When: Friday, April 27th at 9:30 AM
- Where: Pier A Park in Hoboken, NJ
- Sign up now
Once In a Lifetime May 23, 2011Posted by craftlass in Atlantis, NASA, NASAtweetup, space, Twitter.
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I’m angry. I will likely make quite a few of my readers angry with this piece, too, for varying reasons. However, I have sat by and let myself get to this state without speaking out for some time now and, you know what? Silence doesn’t do anyone good, no matter how comfortable it can be.
There have been four NASA Tweetups for launches so far and the great news is that there will be one for STS-135, the final launch of the space shuttle. The very fact that even one happened is a testament to the hard work and cleverness of a small team of forward-looking individuals who overcame great obstacles to make it work. Let’s face it, no matter how much one may be a fan of NASA, it’s a large (some would say bloated) government agency that is quite conservative and likes to stick with traditions whenever possible. Convincing such a beast to be open to new methods of reaching people is a difficult task at best and watching it happen has been a lesson on effectively changing something from the inside. It’s been a phenomenal success in many ways, but we must remember just how hard certain people inside are fighting for this and respect the barriers they contend with to give us the unprecedented access we have been enjoying for the past few years (from tweeting news, sharing videos and pictures quickly, answering our questions, to, yes, tweetups).
There has been a lot of talk lately on Twitter about two things related to launch tweetups: 1) Getting people who have been to one back to the press site for this final launch; and 2) Breaking the rules for underage tweeps.
As for part 1, well, I’m a little embarrassed to even feel a need to bring this up, but geez, people, you’ve had your chance! Some of you have even had two chances! I’m thrilled that it seems like the organizers are trying to prevent any duplicates and we should make it easier on them, not harder. Look, I’d love to get back there myself, it is weird to go back to regular civilian status after the perks of a tweetup. Yet I had my chance and it’s time for new people to get their own. I have friends who have applied for every single launch tweetup and still haven’t made it into one, including some of the biggest launch chasers and cheerleaders of the bunch. I would do anything I could to get them in, except there is nothing outside of not registering myself, whether I’d be allowed in or not. Keeping my name completely out of the hat shows both respect for potential tweetuppers and the people who have to deal with the thousands of registrations they receive at this point.
Want a reunion for your tweetup? Well, then, plan one! There has already been one for STS-133, at the Udvar-Hazy annex of the National Air and Space Museum. I could not make it down but I heard it was a great success and we have talked about making these fairly regular things. Note the location: Not at press site or even a NASA facility. It was planned by some of the tweetuppers, not by the overworked NASA staffers who brought us together in the first place (but did get invited as guests, by the way, at least one attended that I know of). They have enough to do making new official tweetups happen! A tweetup can happen anywhere, anytime, it doesn’t need to be official or create problems for the very people we should appreciate most.
Want to attend another launch? Well, that’s pretty easy if you have the time and money. There are plenty of places to watch from and if you truly care about seeing it you shouldn’t care where you are. Enter the public ticket lottery, watch from off-site, whatever. Harassing anyone you might know at NASA is not the best way to go about this. Even long-time employees are struggling to get tickets for themselves for the final launch since there is overwhelming demand. I can’t thank the people who have helped me get to a launch enough and giving them any form of grief is about the worst way to show gratitude there could be.
None of us deserve special treatment.
Which brings me to part 2, the underage rule. I have a few friends who I want to get to a tweetup more than almost anyone, but they happen to be minors. My heart breaks for them, it’s not their fault they were born too late to be eligible during the shuttle program and it’s harsh that the rules forbid it. It’s not just the rules of tweetup, it’s the rules of the press site. I know a teen who is working press and can’t do his job due to this rule, even. Yes, harsh. This may sound strange coming from a woman who constantly says, “You need to learn the rules so you can more effectively break them,” but there are some that are simply unbreakable and must be accepted at face value. There are problems of liability, a no-guest policy (preventing parents or guardians from accompanying minors), and even transportation. I’m sure there are even more reasons behind it, but the fact remains: The people who are being badgered about making exceptions have absolutely no ability to make them. Being hounded about something you wish you could help with but absolutely can’t is somewhere well below the root canal level of fun.
I realize a lot of the tweets on both subjects have been written in a joking manner, but you know? Sometimes even jokes can hurt. When you work day after day to give people one of the finest presents money can’t buy and find yourself being asked for more it can easily get overwhelming and demoralizing. Think before you tweet. Think even harder before you mention someone to make sure they will see that tweet. I will admit, I got caught up in a discussion about getting an underage tweep a great viewing spot myself, and big conversations with lots of people can make you fall into these traps easily. I’ve learned to be more careful the hard way in general, about discussing certain things publicly and mentioning people who probably shouldn’t be included simply because I didn’t think to erase their ID from the tweets. It happens, but we do have the power to both prevent making the same mistakes repeatedly and apologize for them in the first place.
Due to my presence at several launches now I personally get asked a lot about access and even if I can help others get onto KSC grounds. I can’t. I have attended at the pleasure of very kind people and have been surprised by the invitations every time. I will happily explain how to register for the ticket or tweetup lotteries or find a good off-site spot but have no idea how to get anything else. My best advice is consistently to simply not be a snob. If you demand that you must be on-site, especially if the reason is that you were spoiled by being in a tweetup, well, why would anyone want to do you a favor? For 2 out of my 3 launches I had a plane ticket down long before I had any idea where I might wind up. As of now I plan to watch STS-135 from off-site with friends unless I manage to win in the ticket lottery. I don’t expect invitations, special favors, or anything from anyone. I do expect to enjoy every moment I’m down there, wherever I may be and whichever friends I might be with.
After all, isn’t viewing some of the great moments of the entire existence of humans powerful from any vantage point? Simply being within a few dozen miles of the launch pad will automatically make you one of the luckiest people on this planet!
Just to be clear: This isn’t directed at anyone in particular and doesn’t represent anyone’s views but my own, just some (not-so-objective) thoughts from objective observation. I wish the best of luck to everyone trying to get down there and look forward to celebrating the end of an era we love with fun and support and marvelous stories to share forever!
I’ve written before about the challenges of being addicted to rocket launches but the people who have it worse, far worse, are those who love us. It’s not just shuttle addicts this applies to, either. For example, astronomers (amateur or pro) come with a lot of baggage, including the need to stay up all night or close to it, planning around events like meteor showers, and either spending insane amounts of money on gear or making far less than they should if professional. However, since the last shuttle launch is rapidly approaching, I am going to focus on the non-space-worker launch freaks here or else I could wind up writing a whole book.
The first thing you need to understand is that seeing a launch, to us, is not just a cool thing to do. It’s a compulsion and, frankly, one of the healthiest ones around. A launch gives us a high greater than any drug and it lasts forever. I repeat, forever! This does not mean that one is enough, however. Oh, no, not at all. Each launch is unique, from the countdown events to the way it rises to the sound to the trail it leaves in the sky. I’ve only seen three and could espouse endlessly on the characteristics of each. The first one changed the way I look at the world entirely and the successive ones have reinforced that and brought me closer to being who I aim to be. I have seen the power of the human brain and great teamwork and my faith in humanity has been restored. This makes me a better person on every level.
The second thing is that a launch is more important than almost anything else could be. Each launch happens exactly once and it’s on its own schedule that individuals can not control. Birthdays come every year on a fixed schedule, as do anniversaries, and they really don’t have to be celebrated on the date itself. Things that might be extremely important to you do matter to us, but we have to balance their significance against a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, which each launch is, no matter how many we may see. This is especially true now, with all the lasts for the shuttle program happening. Let’s put it this way: I would miss my own wedding for a launch if I was getting married. Seriously. It has nothing to do with how much I care about my significant other, it’s just that it’s possible to move even the fanciest wedding and not at all possible for me to change a launch date. I missed STS-132 for a friend’s graduation party and I will regret it until the day I die, even though I love this friend with all my heart and have a no-regrets policy in general.
Third, going to a launch is expensive and we don’t care. As long as we’re not on the verge of losing our homes or internet connection, no debt is too great. We look for ways to make it more affordable, like sharing houses or driving with people, even if they are total strangers. However, some expenses just can’t be avoided, like changing plane tickets or losing deposits due to a date change. I didn’t eat an actual meal for an entire day at this past launch and I didn’t care at all, the launch fed me more than food possibly could. Great things require sacrifice at times and there are few sacrifices too great.
Fourth, launch dates are flexible and we need to roll with the changes, not just financially. STS-134 got pushed back about by two weeks and, for me, it made more sense to stay for the duration than to fly home and back. Adding to the confusion, it took days after the scrub of the first attempt to find out what the new date would be, so many people stuck around until it was clear the delay would be more than a week. Choosing to stay longer is not an indicator that we don’t care about you or that we’re behaving badly while away, it’s just the way things have to be. After all, once we’ve gone to so much trouble to attend the greatest shame is to miss the actual event just because someone wanted us to come home.
Fifth, we are a community. The friends I have made through interest in space and attending launches are my family just as surely as anyone actually related to me. We support each other when life gets difficult and celebrate together when good things happen. This does not diminish our love for anyone else, but we have an understanding that is deep and eternal and shared only with those like us. We’re of all races, religions (or lack of such), national origins, economic backgrounds, educational backgrounds, and vocations, yet we have a common bond that makes none of that matter except as something more to talk about. Oh, how we talk! Endlessly and enthusiastically, over beer and food and the smell of rocket fuel. We teach each other, learn from each other, grow together, and are always better for it. It’s like attending years of college in just a few days, the bonds are that powerful and the learning is that broad if you want it to be. What could be better?
To put all of this another way, do you really want to be resented for the rest of your life/relationship/friendship because you got in between someone you love and their passion? Is it worth a few extra days together or a few dollars?
I’m lucky, I have the most wonderful partner in the world, who lives by these values, even to the point where he supported me basically missing his birthday two years in a row for space events that weren’t even launches but deeply mattered to me. By the same token, if he had to miss mine for a chance to dive the Great Barrier Reef or live out another dream of his I would give him my blessing in a heartbeat, even if it hurt on some level. That’s what partnership is, encouraging the person or people you love to take life by the horns and explore everything they feel a need to any chance they get even if it’s inconvenient or painful.
I’ve watched a friend argue terribly with his wife over staying in town a bit longer during a launch, another miss a launch due to a family birthday (and he will now never see one), and even had one who spent a lot of money to get tickets for him and his son (it would have been the son’s first launch and a wonderful educational opportunity) only to have his wife put down her foot and prevent them from going. This breaks my heart and are hardly the only examples of similar issues. Once these chances are gone, they are gone forever. Sondheim got it right when he had Cinderella state, “Opportunity is not a lengthy visitor.”
So, if you truly value your relationship with a space geek, don’t stand in the way or give a guilt-trip. Clear the path or even join the fray and who knows? Maybe you’ll find that it will affect you in a positive way, too, even if you couldn’t care less about space yourself.
The Quaking Quiet May 16, 2011Posted by craftlass in Endeavour, NASA, space, SpaceTweeps.
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A quiet night. Anticipation and excitement crackle beneath the quiet, though. Everyone’s sleep schedule is different and for many, not working out so well. Sleeping the night before a launch is always difficult but when you have to be up in the middle of the night for a morning launch there is no one way to prepare. Some people went to bed in the afternoon, like the astronauts did themselves. Some slept in today and are braving it out until after the launch. Some people are trying a combination of strategic naps that mostly seem to be getting interrupted by that deep thrill that becomes more encompassing as the countdown clock ticks away.
We’re going to see a launch!
Okay, most of the people I’m with are fairly seasoned veterans when it comes to delays and scrubs, including this being our second attempt to see this particular launch. Sure. Any other day we’ll realize that we took a risk in coming, that tomorrow morning might bring the disappointment of no launch at all. We all know that deep in our minds right now. Every other part of you, however, is completely in denial. You believe, deep down, that in a few hours you are going to see the greatest show on earth in this day. Doubts flee and excitement takes over.
Endeavour is scheduled to launch at 8:56 AM EDT. This makes for some early call times. The friend I’m staying with, who is working the launch, had to be there by 10:00 PM. Others get in at 2:30 AM, 3:00 AM, and so on. Friends in the press will go in about as early as they can. I’m not sure how early the NASA Tweetup tweeps are supposed to arrive this time but if they are anything like my STS-133 group they will start arriving as early as they are allowed. My group, the Ninja Crew, is heading in around 4:30-5:00 AM.
This makes for complicated planning for all. The weird side-effect of sleep issues is that tonight has been particularly mellow. Instead of the usual pre-launch partying everyone is just trying to take care of themselves and make sure they are wide-awake in plenty of time for their own timeframe.
Add in the fact that there are far fewer people around, at least amongst the people I know, and it gets even stranger. The two-week delay made it impossible for many to return, to the point where people were still managing to make local hotel reservations right up until the last minute. The weekend made for a rolling wave of arrivals rather than a big rush like the last few attempts and Discovery’s last launch, too.
It’s kind of nice. Different from what I’ve grown used to, but nice in its own way. I may not have seen that many people thus far but that means the groups who have gathered have gotten a more intimate chance to hang out than usual. My household is made up of people who are becoming more and more like old friends, we’ve spent so much time together at launches, Yuri’s Night parties, SpaceUps, and such as well as chatting online in the past couple of years. Last night we spent 5 hours in the hot tub, having some drinks and talking about everything and anything. Talk about a great way to get to know people even better!
As I type my housemate Rick is next to me on his laptop, updating his fabulous Mission Clock (iOS) app and watching Spacevidcast. Others are resting in their rooms. Even though we’re relaxing at a private home it’s nothing like following the launch from home. Everyone around you is full of that same anticipation and a much deeper desire to have all go as planned than I had ever imagined before I came down here for my first launch. Makes you feel like you are truly part of something special, which you are, even if just a spectator.
After all, this is the very last time Endeavour will ever launch, the last time a single crew larger than 4 will separate themselves from the planet for quite some time, the last time that isn’t the very last time. To be here is to be very, very lucky. It may be very, very crazy since we all made some pretty huge sacrifices to be here, but not one of us will say it wasn’t worth it, especially if this bird actually flies.
In a few hours my borrowed car will be packed with chairs, blankets, coolers, and excited space geeks. I plan to savor this quaking quiet as long as it lasts. After all, a few hours later things will be anything but quiet!
How Could Something So Wonderful Be So Bittersweet? February 28, 2011Posted by craftlass in Discovery, events, NASA, NASAtweetup, space, SpaceTweeps, travel, Twitter.
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2/24/2011. Day 115 of the STS-133 NASATweetup. A most beautiful day in Florida, at the press site of Kennedy Space Center. Most of us had gathered the night before to watch the Rotating Service Structure retract on Pad 39A, revealing the naked shuttle beneath, a most glorious sight to see and something we were supposed to do in November but were unable to. One of several reasons I’m actually glad that Discovery didn’t launch on time, in retrospect. However, a few people couldn’t make it in on time for the retraction, so launch day (was it really going to be a launch day this time?) was the first time all of us who could return were together again and that alone was wonderful enough to fill my heart with sheer joy.
I was actually quite surprised at how many in our group were still completely unknown to me. We hadn’t met on Twitter, hadn’t met at the original tweetup, and I still haven’t met some of them.
On the other hand, there were piles of people who I’d met in November who had become friends, some extremely close and getting closer. It had the air of a family reunion only better because we were about to see one of the coolest things you can see in 2011!
This was to be my 2nd shuttle launch. STS-131 was my first and it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, right before dawn so it had the beauty of a night launch with a nearly-unique quality of creating essentially two sunrises in rapid succession. Yes, that’s how bright the shuttle is when you’re only 3 miles away from the pad! Blinding, breathtaking, and utterly exhilarating even before the ground rumbles and the shockwaves hit you.
This time I was a little more prepared for how quickly it all happens and how gloriously intense it is. What I wasn’t prepared for was how different it would be to share the experience with people I love, not just one good friend and two new acquaintances.
Most of us arrived very, very early, almost as early as we were allowed in. Since we’d pretty much blown NASA’s budget for our tweetup last time (they had to keep our tent and everything all week instead of for two days) we were going to have no real facilities, just some bleachers and a charging station in the midst of the press site. None of us cared. We packed up coolers full of food and drinks, some brought along camp chairs, we shared sunblock and bug spray and whatever else we had. We even had some friends not in our tweetup hanging out, as they were officially press, which added to the general community feel. I have never before felt so surrounded by people I care about. I probably never will again.
The remarkable hero to us all, Stephanie Schierholz, had once again gone above and beyond, arranging for speakers just as good or even better than the ones we had last time. Astronaut Shannon Walker talked about her experience on the Soyuz and the International Space Station, which was still fresh to her as she only returned last Thanksgiving. NASA’s Chief Technologist, Bobby Braun, talked about plans for fresh innovation and the future of human spaceflight. We got another demonstration from the Robonaut 2 team, this time with his fresh new wheels. To top it all off with whipped cream and cherries we had former astronaut and current Associate Administrator for Education at NASA, Leland Melvin, who was there to talk about education, naturally, but also regaled us with stories from his days on the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys as well as “secret” tales of life in space. None of them seemed to want to stop talking to us, our gang had tons of great questions and you could tell they enjoyed being so appreciated.
In between, we had a lot of fun just catching up, hugging a lot, getting way too much sun, waving to the astronauts in the Astrovan on their way to the pad, and just generally being silly and overexcited space geeks. When Melvin finally got pulled away we had a bit more time to finish setting up tripods, grab a snack, and figure out where we wanted to be for launch.
Last time I stayed at the first house formed, known as the Big House. I’ve gone on and on about what a family we became, both in prose here and in song, so I won’t bore you with that story again. This time there were some complications and I wound up in Lambda House, another wonderful mix of people I already adore and some I hadn’t met. Two very different experiences, both fantastic. However, missing my Big House tweeps led me to choosing to spend the launch with them. Andy Cochrane made sure I was front and center for the launch (after all, I’m the shortest of us all…) and I loaned him a tripod since I wasn’t taking pictures or video myself. That’s just what family does, right? (For a real treat, listen to Andy’s audio from the event, it will blow your mind, especially if you’ve never been that close to a launch!)
Most of the people around me had never seen a launch of any large rocket before and their energy was extra-infectious as the big countdown clock ticked it’s way towards 0. The surprising thing about the press site is that very little news was reaching our ears so when we finally heard that there was a computer glitch turning launch status to red we were so nervous! I pulled up NASA TV on my phone but as I was on 3G it was a bit delayed, but better than no information. Phylise Banner, our dear Mothership, grabbed her ham radio so we could listen. They added a highly unusual T-5 minute hold to try to fix the glitch. As we heard, “45 seconds left in the window… 30 seconds left in the window… 10 seconds left in the window…” my heart sank. Could we bear another disappointment?
2 seconds before the window closed we saw the trademark smoke start billowing around the launch pad and everything else was completely forgotten. People started whooping and hollering up a storm, growing in strength as the the tower was cleared and it all became very, very real. We were watching Discovery make her last voyage off of the planet and we were doing this together! That dear orbiter, oldest left in the fleet, first to return us to space after each shuttle disaster, deliverer of Hubble, and temporary home to two astronauts I’d met just over a week earlier was going… going… gone.
It really does happen far too fast and the time seems even shorter when you are there. Adrenaline floods your body, for many of us tears filled our eyes, and a sense of true awe is palpable. There is nothing else like it in the world. Nothing.
Add in these very special people, and the experience goes from the best thing ever to something utterly incomprehensible in the most marvelous of ways.
I watched until she was out of eyesight, then watched a bit longer with my binoculars. I wanted this to go on forever.
Alas, it could not be.
I turned around and hugged Andy, then Talullah Kidd, then a whole bunch of us just piled onto each other in a massive group hug. I found myself in the same state as I was on the day Discovery scrubbed in November, laughing and crying in a chaotic mess of emotions. That struck me as odd at first until I realized that the launch meant this was all over. No more emails from Stephanie. No more planning needed. No reason that this precise group would be together again. Nothing concrete to tie us to each other.
Months of IMs, DMs, and Skype calls ran through my mind. Would all of us continue this even if we had no event to plan?
I like to think we will but the realist in me worries a bit. After all, I’ve lost touch with family and old friends without even a hint of regret. Emotions ran very high between the two parts to our tweetup.
I’m planning to hit the road to see these people and play music for those who wish me to. I’m going to do my part to keep these connections alive. There are even a few people who probably don’t realize what a profound effect they had on me, and these are the folks I wonder about the most.
It’s now been 119 days since our tweetup started officially. I’ve said goodbye to so many people already, including some that I’m having real trouble with parting from. I’m still on the Space Coast and having a great time, even as our numbers dwindle and the approach of “real life” sets in.
Memories and education are the two things no one can take from us and this tweetup has given me both in spades. No matter how hard re-entry may be I am so much better prepared for whatever comes next and I have a small army of support to keep me on track.
Not bad for an event created by a government agency almost no one wants to support, huh?
Wake Up to SpaceUp January 25, 2011Posted by craftlass in space, SpaceTweeps.
Ahhhh… it’s that time again! SpaceUp rears it’s lovely head and gets the space geeks all amped up. This time there are two happening the same weekend, February 12th-13th, the second take on the original one in San Diego and the inaugural one for Houston. I’ll be at the latter myself but know lots of cool people who will be at one or the other, making this one of the major weekends I could really use a clone.
What is SpaceUp? Well, I wrote a post about it before my first one, just my own interpretation of the explanations I’d heard for the people who were asking that question. Having been to one now I have a lot more to say, but my basic advice is: If you are interested in any aspect of space, from Old Space to New Space, from astronomy to planetary sciences, from propulsion to robotics, and far beyond, this is the place to be. It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand how it works, you will when the time comes. Nor does it matter if you have no expertise or if you have multiple PhDs, all ages are welcome, and you can wear what you want and even host a session or give a talk if you’re so inclined.
What could be more democratic?
It’s so rare in life to attend an event where everyone is on equal footing even though they represent all spectrums of the community. One of the most special moments at SpaceUp DC was when a 9 year-old boy got involved in a discussion on reaching out to his generation, actually having a child’s input was even more valuable than that from education experts because it didn’t come from a book or school, it was from his heart as well as his mind. His mother told us she knew little of space or science until her son got interested in them and she brought him to try and support his interest as well as she could but was learning a lot herself. To me, this pair symbolized everything SpaceUp is about: Community, open lines of communication, and keeping an open mind about who can have good ideas and what subject might suck you in.
One day in DC I wound up in a session about thermonuclear rockets. Now, I had heard the term before but couldn’t have even vaguely answered what they were if asked. Okay, I could break it down by the name, but it wouldn’t have been a serious answer! It turned out to be one of the best sessions I attended, I learned a lot and want to learn more on the topic. Our big conclusion that day was that they have a PR problem and need a new name, which makes a lot of sense, but requires getting some engineers, PR people, and wordsmiths into the same room, which is a rare combination indeed in almost any other circumstance.
Modern society is very disjointed. We like to divvy everyone up into little groups and then slice those groups up even smaller, building walls between each time. Companies keep the left-brainers away from the right-brainers who are kept away from the executives and the underlings. This is bad, very bad. The best ideas happen when people who seem to have little in common work together as a real team, even if there are serious disagreements along the way. Actually, especially if there are disagreements – those are needed to kill the inevitable bad ideas that crop up and spark a new direction of thinking. Compartmentalization is bad for everyone and everything, at least, in my opinion, and it’s time to break free of this modus operandi.
This is why SpaceUp is my favorite event. It’s living, breathing proof that people CAN communicate across all the artificial boundaries we put up and find ourselves subject to. Even better, the way a lot of that happens is through actual fun! We have fun debating serious topics, we have fun sharing stories and getting to know each other, and then there’s the actual Fun Time built into the schedule. I don’t know much about the plans for San Diego but I am absolutely thrilled to be able to say I will be providing entertainment a few times during the Houston event.
The peak of it all will be on Saturday evening when there will be a party with a great combo of information and entertainment to cap it all off. For more information check out the official SpaceUp Houston blog, in the meantime I’ll just share another chorus of, “I’m sharing a bill with an astronaut!” Yep, that’s right, folks… Clay Anderson, NASA astronaut and superstar twitternaut will be opening up the night with a presentation, I will be closing it with music. Pretty cool, eh? I’m honored that they asked me to play and am working hard to ensure it will be my best performance to date, including polishing up some very new songs to debut for this special audience.
Sorry about the shameless self-promotion here, as it’s not generally why I keep this blog, but I am genuinely excited to both attend and perform to the point where I want to shout about it from rooftops. It’s probably far safer and more effective that I do that here, virtually, rather than in my NJ town… Right? To top it all off, I’m hard at work on a new single to release at the event and a few new songs to debut as well, so I’m extra-hyped up!
I hope to see you there, follow your stories from SpaceUp San Diego, or at least that you’ll log in to the live feeds if you can’t travel to one (thanks to the fabulous efforts of the Spacevidcast crew).
[Update: This post has been crossed posted at SpaceUp Houston's website, thanks to the kind folks over there for thinking my humble post was worthy of inclusion!]
This Most Awesome Space Cathedral November 19, 2010Posted by craftlass in beliefs, NASA, NASAtweetup, space, the cool factor, travel, tribute.
I am a huge fan of huge buildings. Having spent most of my life living near or in New York City I suppose it was inevitable that I would have strong feelings on these monuments to human achievement. Their peaks have filled my view from various angles and distances and every time, without fail, I have been awestruck for at least one moment.
The Woolworth Building reminds me of the power of nickels-and-dimes long after the stores themselves no longer had items priced that low and then disappeared from the American landscape. It’s a beautiful monument to the American dream and still takes my breath away every time I turn the corner to look up at it or spy it amongst the newer, cleaner (but far less interesting) structures that now surround it in the skyline. The Chrysler Building, though the tallest in the world for only a brief moment, is still possibly the most beautiful piece of architecture ever dreamed up, and the criticism that it was, ”a stunt design, evolved to make the man in the street look up,” is actually one of the greatest compliments a building could receive as it does exactly that to the new visitor and jaded New Yorker alike. The Empire State Building has so many features one could spend a lifetime studying it and still look upon it and be surprised by one never noticed before. The World Trade Center towers, gone for far too long already, still loom over the skyline in my mind when I gaze across the Hudson. The word “awesome” is so overused today but one only needs to look to these buildings to remember what it actually means.
I thought my own history with buildings of this order would prepare me for my first glimpse of NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). As I stood on the pier of Space View Park, miles away, waiting to watch the landing of STS-129, I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. Even from that distance it was impressive, and standing alone, without a skyline to give it context, even more so. As we later drove towards it on the tour bus I filled my companions’ ears with trivia I had learned about it, like the fact the lines on the flag painted on it’s side were large enough for the bus we were on to drive down one. As it grew larger and larger in my view, though, I lost my thoughts and simply stared until I got the wherewithal to grab my camera to take the first of hundreds of pictures I would take obsessively on my visits to Kennedy Space Center. I was awestruck in a whole new way. A new dream formed, one I thought would always go unfulfilled, a dream of standing inside that building and getting to take in it’s immensity and history.
I had the incredible fortune of getting a lot closer for the launch of STS-131. The area I was in, known as the Turn Basin for the lake next to the site where the external tanks and solid rocket boosters come in on their ships, was right next to the VAB with only the Launch Control Center standing between us. The vast VAB loomed over us through the night as we waited for the launch and I stared at it in all it’s lit-up glory for much of that time, unable to turn away except for glimpses of Discovery on her pad. I walked around and took in as many angles as I could, sometimes photographing, sometimes just staring with my mouth open in quiet appreciation.
Almost a year later I received an invitation to an event that would have taken me inside. I cried for days at the realization I simply could not attend, and I’m usually not the sort to cry over such things. It felt like I was killing my own dream by giving in to circumstances beyond my control and hurt me on a level I didn’t know possible. All over a building!
At that point I had received confirmation that I was invited to the 3rd NASA launch tweetup but, having followed avidly the tweeps at the first two, I knew the VAB was well out-of-reach even with all the VIP treatment they had received. It wasn’t even a consideration in my excitement for the event.
On day two of the tweetup we loaded onto our busses, curious about what we would see on our special tour. My bus was dubbed “the cool bus” and it was indeed cool to me, as we not only had organizers Stephanie Schierholz and Beth Beck on board along with a knowledgeable and entertaining tour guide, but most of my closer friends in the group. We were already bouncing with excitement as we took over the back of the bus. Suddenly, our guide started walking the aisle, handing out little cards with clips that turned out to read, “NASA Special Guest,” that he said we would have to hand back. I hadn’t heard an announcement so this piqued my curiosity even more. When Stephanie called us to attention and told us we were going inside the VAB it took a few moments to hit my brain, I was certain I must have heard wrong until everyone started completely freaking out. The only thing I could equate it to was the old films of teen girls screaming for the Beatles.
As we got off the bus outside this venerable structure everyone scrambled to take pics or pose for them. I pulled out my camcorder to record this once-in-a-lifetime moment when we stepped through the doorway and tried to capture a giant pan of it all and my fellow tweetuppers reaction. Where a moment before we had been deafening in our glee we all went suddenly quiet with reverence.
There we were, standing in the building that was needed to get America to orbit and on to the moon. Where the majestic Saturn V rockets had stood in all their glory. Where the pieces of Columbia, one of the greatest tragedies of exploration, lie tucked away safely now so researchers can learn forever from our mistakes. Where the mostly nameless, faceless workaday heroes of the space program have toiled for decades to physically make possible the greatest adventures known to humans. Where, at that moment, the solid rocket boosters of the last planned shuttle mission were just beginning to be stacked, the familiar cones standing in a corner looking small and almost innocuous despite their impressive size.
Past, present, and future came crashing down on me and I turned off the camcorder to soak it all in.
The same group who had been so loud in shared joy just a few minutes earlier was completely changed. Most were silent, some were speaking in the hushed tones usually reserved for church or a library. Don’t get me wrong, the energy was still all there, but something in that building begged for quiet reverence. When I commented on the reaction to a friend she replied, “Yes, because it is a space cathedral.”
She had it exactly right.
I was a very lucky kid, my parents either took me on or enabled me to go on trips to Europe several times while growing up. Along the way I have been to some of the most beautiful and famous cathedrals there, from Westminster Abbey to the Vatican with many in-between. I decided by the age of 6 or 7 that I was definitely not a Christian (despite being raised Catholic) but these buildings have always spoken to me, not as houses of God but as some of the most inspiring examples of the cleverness and artistry of people. Sure, I know the history of some of them is filled with pretty horrific stories, but the end result can not be denied – they are gorgeous and awe-inspiring. The feature that usually binds them all together is the light pouring through the great windows, to some, evidence of holiness, to me, evidence of the wonders of our Sun.
The VAB is exactly like them in that respect. Each end of the center… hmmmmm… hallway isn’t the right word, drive seems wrong even though it’s somewhat fitting… anyway, each end has these gloriously large windows with beams from the bright Florida sun reaching towards us. One had an American flag hanging down the center that almost resembled stained glass from the glow, even though it was fabric. I had never felt quite so patriotic and proud as looking at that flag.
We are a nation of explorers. Our land was discovered repeatedly by brave souls who dared to take a chance on it’s wilderness. Our founding settlers risked everything to create their little pockets of civilization without any way of knowing what a grand one would result someday. Most of us have ancestors, even as close as our parents, who plunged into America looking for something not available where they were from, but with no real notion of what would be here when they arrived, just that it was supposed to be some vague “better”. These were blind leaps of faith at the extreme and they were utterly human.
The end result was this building and what it means to exploration in a whole other direction. Up and out, onwards and forwards. Even in this time of great uncertainty as to the future of space exploration (let’s face it, it changes with every election cycle now and those are way shorter than it takes to get a project literally off the ground) in our country, it is a powerful thing to recognize the capability we have and the intense human need to keep going and going and going…
Wherever we go, whatever we do, even if the vehicle never enters this building, we could not possibly get there without it. I wish I could take every single person in the world and stand them there, right in the middle, to gaze at the machinery, the signatures on the walls from people who toiled so hard within it’s walls, and just the grandeur of it all. I dare someone to stand there and not realize how important it all is, from the lowliest assistant to the men and women who ride those rockets, from the small rockets carrying satellites that teach us about our home planet and environs to the giants that allowed man to walk on a completely different surface and even live in space.
I have beheld the power of humanity and it is AWESOME.
Never Say “No” to Adventure November 17, 2010Posted by craftlass in Discovery, NASA, NASAtweetup, space, travel, Twitter.
For the past 3 weeks I have been in Florida. If I used any rationality at all I shouldn’t be here, I didn’t have the money to come and it’s a fairly long time to be away from my “normal” life, amongst other reasons too boring to talk about.
However, rationality is often the best way to ruin your life, at least when it comes to living it to the fullest.
The main reason for the trip was to attend the space shuttle mission STS-133 NASA tweetup, which was supposed to occur over 2 days, Halloween and November 1st. I was one of 150 lucky people on Twitter selected from over 2,700 applicants and the original idea was to have a day of speakers and tours, then more speakers and the shuttle launch the next day. NASA had done this twice before with great success and I had been hearing stories about how amazing the experience was. Conveniently, my father lives in Florida, so I purchased a one-way ticket down for a few days before the event (what I could afford at the time and also a wise decision in the end, as space travel is not something that conforms to a set schedule very well). I figured I would visit my father, go to the tweetup, and buy a ticket home once Discovery made it to orbit while taking advantage of Dad’s free accommodations again. I had friends coming, too, so spending extra time with them was something I initially saw as a bonus.
Oh, how reality differs from plans!
I have had good reason to learn not to trust people, I have been burned more often than I have found good sorts. Yet, when I heard there was a houseshare forming I jumped on the chance. I had previously met two of my housemates and we had become friends but the rest were complete strangers at the time, not even people I was following on Twitter yet. I figured, well, I would have lots of friends down there to hang out with and it was just a place to crash and save a fortune (hotels in the area are crazily expensive over the launch and even higher for this one than most).
At this point, I had already said, “Yes!” to two things I logically should have said, “No,” to. Thank goodness!
The tweetup was delayed by a day due to a launch delay to November 2nd. Some people opted out at this point as they would have to leave before the new launch date. Me? I met my friends on Saturday, as planned, and we drove out to the Space Coast and straight into meeting a whole pile of tweeps at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. While we were still there, before even seeing our houses, two of my girls met guys who would quickly come to be far more than friends. Connections, when right, happen quickly! We also had the good fortune of meeting several former astronauts, including the NASA Administrator, Charlie Bolden, who turned out to be a delightful man who seemed thrilled to meet us and talk to us, too. If we had said, “No,” due to scheduling we would have lost out on so much just on the very first day, two days before the tweetup was set to begin.
Halloween brought more friends and the first really big party at my house, affectionately and appropriately nicknamed “The Big House.” I played and sang for a couple of hours, very casually, and the whole affair was streamed by “hatcam” so even far-off folks could participate by watching and chatting. By the end of the night, I had sold some music and gotten new fans, which makes this one of the most successful gigs I’ve ever had despite not being paid or even having a microphone. Playing for people who genuinely enjoy what you do is the most rewarding thing, and I continued to play most of the nights we were there. We had a couple of other guitarists and a violinist in the house as well, so I loaned out my guitar and got to enjoy being played for as well. “No,” never even came into my mind.
That night I had intended to go to sleep early so as to be well-rested for the tweetup. A bit of confusion led me and a housemate who I had never even talked to online (except as necessary to plan the houseshare) outdoors, where one of the most beautiful moons I’ve ever seen was rising over Cocoa Beach, across the river. We grabbed our cameras and my binoculars and shot some beautiful pictures before lying down on the dock to take in the many, many stars. Turned out we were both from major metropolitan areas with dreadful light pollution and the concept of that many stars was foreign and utterly seductive. We stayed out almost all night, just passing the binoculars back and forth and trying to figure out what exotic (to us) stars we were seeing. A terrible idea to stay up most of the night, but now one of my all-time favorite memories. I got to do something I love more than almost anything and make an instant close friend. What could be more worth the sacrifice?
The tweetup was instantly wonderful, great speakers and more friends and the chance to take pics in front of the countdown clock. There was a mix-up due to all the changes and not enough busses for our planned tour so they asked any of us who were staying to let those who had to leave take the tour and come back the next day. Some people who were staying anyway chose to take the tour then and take the next day off, others just opted out of the tour entirely. I chose to return the next day and was rewarded by a trip inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), a building that few people ever get to enter, even those who work for NASA and contractors. The screams of glee at this announcement are still ringing in my head two weeks later and I hope I never lose them. We said, “Yes,” and were rewarded by getting to live out a dream most of us shared!
As the days wore on and the launch got delayed and delayed and delayed some more, we could easily have gotten disheartened. Instead, those of us who refused to say, “No,” who changed flights, disappointed loved ones back home, spent money we didn’t have, and took a gamble on this bird ever flying took the opportunity to create our own adventures. We’d split up into small groups during the day to go off and explore the area and reconvene at night. We celebrated a friend’s birthday in a style that could never have been planned in advance. We invited a myriad of interesting people to join in our fun and broadcasted it all to the interwebs. We listened for inspiration and worked together to find ways to utilize it. It didn’t matter who had money or a car or knowledge, those who had shared, and those who didn’t found ways to share, too. We were in this together all the way.
When we arrived early at the press site for the Friday launch attempt we soon found out it was delayed yet again, and would be several weeks off at the earliest. Some people heard the news on the way over and just didn’t bother showing up. Those who were there were far luckier. Astronaut Dan Tani gave one of the best talks I have ever attended and we got a chance to talk to some amazing people outside the tweetup as well as inside it. Were we disappointed about the launch delay? Of course. Was it made easier to bear by being with our new family? Of course. Did it solidify the emotions we were all feeling about each other already? Of course.
If I had heard the news while alone, on the way, or even back at the house, I think I would have reacted differently. I would have been far more upset and have had a harder time dealing with the disappointment. I stayed at the press site for hours, hugging these people I love, taking pictures, participating fully in the experience. Leaving was brutal, but eased by a large group meeting back at the Visitor Complex again. When we got home the mood was somber for the first time all week, until members of another house and some locals suddenly showed up and lifted our spirits until we were partying like there was no tomorrow. People came streaming over and we all found our smiles yet again.
Once again, we said a collective, “Yes!” It would have been easy to say, “No,” and give in to our funk, but we had learned our lesson.
Some experiences in life are worth far more than a job or even a spouse (of course, a good spouse will support these choices, anyway). Some experiences are once-in-a-lifetime and the moment you say, “No,” they are simply gone forever. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if that’s the case. The only way to avoid missing out on them is to eliminate “no” from your vocabulary right now, at least as it pertains to taking chances.
Where some people may have seen only disappointment, I see the greatest week of my 34 years. All because I kept saying, “Yes.”
Why I Am SO Excited for SpaceUp DC August 23, 2010Posted by craftlass in space.
Tags: events, travel
I had intended to continue my launch story, but there’s an event happening in DC this coming weekend that has taken up most of my brain (well, the parts that aren’t writing music). It’s called SpaceUp and it’s billed as an unconference. A lot of people have been asking what that means and I can’t say I’m 100% sure myself but trying to answer people’s questions about it seems to be clarifying it in my own mind.
We’ve all been to conferences, right? They tend to be pretty dictatorial, with strict schedules and often a real lack of fun. Often, you have to prove your worthiness to attend by some sort of professional status. Speakers are chosen well in advance and very few get the opportunity to be one of them. (Also, how many conferences encourage you to show up in your pajamas? No, seriously, they are giving out a prize for the best ones!)
This is why SpaceUp is different. Anyone can go and you can participate on any level you want. A passion for space is the only requirement. A lot of cool people, from NASA teams like the fantastic SDO group to even a lowly musician like me will be doing presentations. The agenda is set by the participants, not the organizers, and they are using a wiki anyone can edit to plan the whole thing.
Like all of the great things in life, it is exactly what you make of it. Quite literally.
Let’s face it. The thing about space, whether you are talking about astronomy or human space flight, is it needs more than the professionals to get involved. NASA and even the commercial space industry need citizen support or the bills won’t get paid. Amateur astronomers are essential to the professionals, discoveries are often made by amateurs because there is a whole lot of space to cover and not enough professionals or observatories to watch it all.
To top it all off, scientists and creative people generally think quite differently and the best way to come up with great ideas is to bring these perspectives together. Unfortunately, opportunities to do so are fairly rare and that’s why I see SpaceUp as filling a very important void.
Sound interesting? Want to join me? Buy a ticket now, they won’t be sold at the door. All ages, professions, and personalities are more than welcome! I happen to know many of the participants and you would be joining a wonderful group of enthusiasts.
Details: From 9am-5pm on Friday and Saturday August 27-28, at Funger Hall Auditorium at George Washington University. See website for more.