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Once In a Lifetime May 23, 2011

Posted by craftlass in Atlantis, NASA, NASAtweetup, space, Twitter.

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!

Go Atlantis!



1. eBON - May 24, 2011

Well put… Stay positive, work hard, be good to people, and we can all create our own path!

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