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Space Can Never Be Too Large September 17, 2014

Posted by craftlass in NASA, space.
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I like space. I like things that are in space, and things that people send into space from our planet’s surface.

I like space agencies, both domestic and foreign. I like commercial space companies, new and old. Heck, this near-pacifist doesn’t even hold it (entirely) against the giants like Boeing and Lockheed Martin that they build all sorts of things designed to aid war and the harm of humans, because they also utilize their extensive capabilities and bank accounts to get people and things into space (and I’m not stupid, I know that weapons and deployment systems are necessary in our imperfect world, no matter how much I may hate that).

Space trumps almost everything, in my personal opinion. Exploration not only adds to our knowledge of the past and present, but is the key to our future. It goes beyond politics and current events or momentary needs and problems.

I also like the space community, a catch-all for people who are professionals in the industry and the space geeks like me who simply cheer them on. Most of my close friends come from this community and it’s the first one I’ve been part of where I genuinely enjoy socializing on a broader level. I’ve never been a big fan of large parties, but put me in a room with any number of strangers who share this love of space, and I will enjoy meeting and talking with pretty much everyone in that room.

“…Any chance to talk rockets, thrust, and issues
With someone who actually has an opinion
Even if we can’t find anything to agree on” – from Life of a Space Geek, by the author*

Now, as with any community, you’ll find various factions and cliques and fandoms (and geeks do excel at building fandoms, to be sure). These things naturally develop in social groups and since the development of what is known as New Space, there are more opportunities to build fandoms as well as more things to argue about. I know people who are staunch believers that only governments should be working on space exploration. I know people who think governments should get entirely out of the endeavor and leave it to corporations. I know die-hard fans of each company and government agency that has taken on the enormous take of getting people and things to space. I know people who think we should stop spending billions on human spaceflight and focus on purer scientific exploration, and people who barely realize there are planetary and pure science missions because they are so focused on human spaceflight.

I completely respect everyone’s right to their opinions and I’ve learned a lot by paying attention to the wide variety that are shared. Spirited debate is a very good thing.

But me? In the end, I just like space.

I look at space agencies and corporations and I see problems with every single one of them, some small and some major. The more I learn, the more I’m both disappointed and impressed. I also see that they are all working hard, in their own individual ways, to push exploration ever further. My favorite thing about New Space is that it added a whole lot more competition to the mix, which not only pushes each New Space company but puts pressure on more established companies to innovate. I’m thrilled that NASA can focus on getting humans further than ever before because the industry will soon be able to take over most of the goings-on in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO), even if I have my own criticisms of each decision along the way. I’m even excited for companies formed to work on the possibility of mining in space, because that sort of technology not only applies to the fortunes of Earth, but will become vital to our chances to potentially move on from the planet that gave birth to our species. Money can also be an excellent motivator, and competition for it only increases the drive to succeed.

That said, I’ll admit I cried my eyes out the moment that STS-135 touched down, signaling the end of the shuttle program. What can I say? I’m just a fan of space and spacecraft and endings are sad even when they are ultimately for a greater good.

As someone who will never work in the industry itself, as I have no interest in working for a government and a lack of appropriate education for any position anyway, I have the privilege of standing back and watching the tales unfold. I can play armchair quarterback and spew my criticisms and praise without fear of it harming my career prospects. My only contributions to space are some quirky tunes like the one quoted above and an almost perverse obsession with talking about the subject with anyone who will give me a moment of their time, including strangers I happen to strike up a conversation with on the street or subway. Sometimes I also write prose about it and contribute to the podcast Talking Space. I study methods of space outreach for fun and to become more effective at it. I give out a lot of stickers and solar glasses to random people I meet. One of my favorite people at NASA, Jon Verville, once called me (and, yes, Jon – I heard what you said behind my back and I don’t think I’ve had the chance to thank you for it, so thanks), “The ultimate space cheerleader.” I’ll take it, because that’s the only involvement I aspire to.

The truth is, I don’t want to pick sides in any of these races. Once you go there it can be very hard to look objectively and critically at your favorite, or to see the good in the opposition.

I get it – people like to pick teams. I used to be a sports fan and still have deep loyalties to certain teams even though I rarely even look at scores for the major American leagues anymore. It seems to be part of human nature to pick factions, and we’re all just human.

Yesterday, NASA formally announced the two companies that have made it to the next round of Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) contracts, Boeing and SpaceX, as well as the levels of funding for each contract, with Boeing receiving a much higher amount. In my opinion, the press conference wasn’t very informative beyond those facts and I’m awaiting more concrete information before I react strongly. Before the press conference there were a lot of rumors flying around, some accurate, many not-so-accurate, and the only real consensus seemed to be that Boeing would get one of the contracts. Despite that consensus, there was quite a bit of fury over that selection, particularly from those who prefer new industry over the traditional players, and, conversely, from those who feel that there is too much blind support for certain newer companies. I’m not saying that people were and are wrong to feel that way, because that would be ridiculous, but the level of anger from some people ultimately seems unproductive to the larger goals, especially when you consider that there isn’t much that any of us can do to change what has been decided and publicly announced.

I was immediately reminded of an exchange I had at the first SpaceUp Houston in 2011. A panel of representatives from commercial spaceflight companies was held on the Saturday evening of the weekend, followed by a concert by yours truly. As I was waiting to take the stage I was approached by a man from Boeing (apologies for not recalling his name, I even tried to look it up but couldn’t find the list of panelists). He was wondering, “Bake Sale for NASA, huh? So how do you feel about commercial spaceflight?” My response was simple and is still true, “I am a proud supporter of anyone who can get anything off this planet, especially people.” (N.B.: these are paraphrases, I have a good memory, but not that good).

So, go ahead and feel your feelings, support who you like, and share what you think. Please level your critiques of the process, especially if you are an American citizen whose tax dollars will go to these companies, as you also have the (rarely used enough by citizens) right to voice your opinions to your representatives in the federal government. I would never ask people to be quiet about any of this, debate and outrage and excitement are the tools that the layperson can wield.

I would just like to remind everyone that someday this will all be a blip in the annals of space history, and don’t let your anger or support for any particular player turn into blinders or, indeed, into personal anger at your fellow space geeks who might have different opinions. If human beings are going to continue this progress, those of us who love and support these endeavors need to not only keep up our enthusiasm but find ways to spread it around outside of the space community.

In the world outside of social media, it can be a very lonely thing to like space, and this global community has made everyone involved grow not just in knowledge, but in the confidence that helps us to more effectively stand up for what we believe in. If we don’t advocate relentlessly for space observation and exploration in all its forms, who will?

*Life of a Space Geek will be part of a forthcoming album that I’m about halfway through writing, about the last few years of the shuttle program and the people involved in it. Sorry there isn’t a recording to link to yet!


4 Years On November 25, 2013

Posted by craftlass in music, NASA.
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4 years ago today I was a space geek who had never been to any NASA center or seen any full-sized heading-away-from-Earth rocket launch. I’d yet to meet most of the friends I’d made via Twitter but was already feeling the positive effects of knowing people who shared a lot of interests with me. I’d just arrived in Florida for Thanksgiving. Atlantis was in the midst of her STS-129 mission and the first NASA launch tweetup had been held for that mission’s launch just about a week earlier. I had plans to make my first visit to Kennedy Space Center to watch the landing later that week, but was enjoying relaxing by my father’s pool with my family in the meantime.

A few months earlier I’d been watching the Augustine Commission hearings on human spaceflight while reading about lesser-known NASA projects that had resulted in excellent improvements to life on Earth, such as agricultural programs that have prevented a lot of starvation but are never hyped. I saw a joke on Twitter about how NASA was going to have to resort to bake sales if they wanted a decent budget and the idea captured my imagination. Visions of rocket-shaped cookies and moon pies danced in my head.

I turned to my computer as C-SPAN blared away in the background and found myself typing:

We sent men to the moon because of some lines

In a speech that inspires to this day

We learn more about Earth from orbit

Than we can in any other way

Yet we spend and we spend and we spend and we spend

On corporate welfare that will never end

Programs that waste more than they create

Yet we’re happy to let NASA deflate

So let’s hold a bake sale for NASA

Show our love for a program that actually works

The cookies are sure to be out of this world

We could even has astros as clerks

Give folks a chance to learn first-hand

Why we need these adventures in space

How it affects them directly at home

And elevates the whole human race

Yes, they just came out that way, no editing required. I picked up my guitar and the chords to complement my new melody just came together right away. As soon as I had a solid pattern going on guitar, the rest of the lyrics just flowed out. Later, I did a bunch of research to confirm my facts and was pleased to find that my statements were pretty accurate.

I wasn’t a musician, I didn’t want to be and had made that decision years earlier. I can’t help writing songs by the dozen, but I was way over-the-hill for a female musician already (33 years old at the time, over-the-hill is usually age 28 for women) and had spent enough time on the road to know it was a hard life with little chance to make a living or maintain the other parts of your life (paying jobs, relationships, etc.). But this song was special. This one had to be heard. It had an important message that wasn’t getting to people and there was no way I’d be getting someone else to perform something so quirky. My friend Stephen Bailey practically ordered me to play it at an open mic before I’d even memorized it, after I showed him my lyric sheet. It got the biggest response I’d ever received from the audience. I’d tweeted about the title and people wanted to hear it. When I published the lyrics online the clamor grew.

My background is in audio engineering but I strongly believe that a musician should not be her/his own engineer and producer if possible, especially for someone like me who writes in a vacuum, without collaborators. It’s easy to get tunnel-visioned about your own music and a fresh perspective is key to making a good song great. Dave Entwistle, a new friend I’d made through his open mic nights, was also an engineer who had been through some terrible music business experiences that gave him recording sensibilities very similar to mine. It was a perfect match. We recorded it over a couple of days and had a blast doing it, the best recording session I’d ever been part of. He elevated the song and my performance in a way that felt more like magic than effort and brought my vision to life.

Most of life requires a lot of hard work. This song never did. Everything just kept coming together.

I joined TuneCore and set the song up to release as a single while packing for Florida. The site said it could take 2-3 weeks to get it to the stores (that time has shrunk over the years) so I sort of pushed it out of my head and took off for the airport.

4 years ago today I got a tweet from @txflygirl saying that she’d just bought “Bake Sale for NASA” at Amazon. It had only been one day and it was up! Next thing I knew, I was on the Amazon charts just above Carly Simon, not in a high position but on the list and climbing. It was the biggest shock of my life. No promotion, no record label, I hadn’t done any of the things I knew I should do to spread the word. It was selling anyway.

Walking onto KSC grounds as an accidental musician with a song about NASA was quite the experience. I’ve never felt so proud. I got to meet Jen and Andy Scheer for the first time, Jen had done the beautiful cover for the song and it was just perfect that we’d already planned to meet that day. I had no idea how all of these things would change my life forever.

We make plans, we set goals, we try so hard to control our lives. It never works. The great things happen when you least expect them and weren’t looking at all.

To date, I’ve been to 3 NASA centers and their headquarters in DC, I saw four of the last five shuttle launches and three of the last five landings, I spent a day at the European Astronaut Training Center in Cologne, I’ve gotten to perform at some of the best events I’ve even been to, and I’ve met amazing people from all over the world who are so smart, funny, and interesting that I still have trouble believing they exist. I may not have full access to that part of my life right now, but the memories are priceless and I can’t wait to get back to traveling again someday.

There even was an actual bake sale for NASA, not to raise money for NASA (that would be illegal) but to raise awareness and support for planetary sciences, created by Alan Stern. My song didn’t inspire it, but it did inspire participants and helped spread the word. That was thrilling for this huge fan of planetary science and unmanned missions. “Bake Sale” might focus on human spaceflight a bit, but it is really about growing all exploration programs, whether they are pointed out at the universe or back home, because all of the pieces to this puzzle are very important to our understanding of the universe we live in.

I wanted to do something special today, like maybe a broadcast of a new live version, but my mouth rebelled and half of it is swollen to where it feels like I have an Everlasting Gobstopper stuck between my molars. I have to go to the dentist and its filling me with so much dread that I’m nauseated and unsuccessfully trying to get work done and probably shouldn’t even be writing this. How do you let the anniversary of the best thing that’s ever happened in your life pass by without notice, though?

A lot of musicians get frustrated when people obsess over one of their songs. Some react by refusing to play their big hit, some play it without putting any heart or soul into it, and still others just rush through the song as quickly as they can (such as Blues Traveler, who managed to play “Runaround” with such speed that you could barely even attempt to sing along after it became a hit). It’s demoralizing and can even be a creativity-killer. Why be creative if your audience only cares about one song? Or will walk out if you play something new, even if it is a far better song, just because it’s new? Or will get angry at you for trying to improve your performance and branch out in new directions?

Playing the same song night after night is boring. I get it.

But I still love playing “Bake Sale” every bit as much as I did at that open mic where it was debuted. Even when I’m home alone rehearsing I can close my eyes and see hundreds of special people in a host of special places, singing and clapping along. I can hear the ghost of an audience chanting, “NASA! NASA! NASA!” like they did at a local pub that was decidedly not full of space geeks. If I ever start playing out again, feel free to request it. I won’t get upset.

“Bake Sale” is the closest thing I will ever have to a first-born. It was far from my first song, but it was the song that broke me out of the prison I’d built around myself. It was the first baby I’d sent out in the world and it managed to survive on its own. I’m a proud momma.

I wish there was a way to thank every single person who has purchased any of my music, shared the links to my music at various sites, written about my songs, invited me to play an event, came to the Endless BBQs and Yuri’s Nights and similar, supported my adventures, and paid insane amounts of money above the list price for Above the Sky at Bandcamp. Every one of you will be in my heart forever, even if I don’t know who you are.

Okay, time to conquer my fear of dentists, just like “Bake Sale” forced me to conquer my stage fright.

Meanwhile, I’d love to hear about how you discovered “Bake Sale” in the comments and if you have any special memories attached to it. I’ve heard quite a few from people but it would be fun to consolidate them and maybe even hear some new ones!

OV101 to NYC Tweetup April 24, 2012

Posted 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.

Enterprise greets her younger sister at Udvar-Hazy

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

Greeting our new neighbor before she left her old home.

Heroes July 20, 2011

Posted by craftlass in NASA, people, politics.

As a musician, you’d probably think my heroes would be the musicians who inspire me. While I give them credit for making me the artist that I am, my musical heroes tend to be more the technical and business people who created the ability for me to be a truly independent artist. The engineers at ProTools and the wizards behind Audacity, for example, especially the latter, since they do it in an open-source way that gives me the ability to record a demo on my laptop wherever I may be without spending a dime. This is important since I’m a classic example of struggling artist, especially since I’m still sort of a newbie at being on this side of the microphone. Then there are the people at Bandcamp, Tunecore, and Reverbnation who create the opportunities for us independents to have many of the marketing advantages of major players in the industry. These people have enabled an outright revolution that is making the world of music a far better place. Despite my lack of love for major labels I also admire the people who do the real work of getting their music out, the assistants and “little people” who go about their duties with passion and vigor without getting any of the credit or even a big enough paycheck to live in the cities they have to live in to do their work or usually even a simple, “Thank you.” I was one of them once, and it’s the hardest work in the industry. Makes being a musician feel like a piece of cake even when I’m working 16 hour days or exhausted from traveling and promoting myself.

As a space geek, you’d probably think my heroes are astronauts. Don’t get me wrong, I admire them beyond measure, but the real heroes are the people who toil endlessly to get people, satellites, and robots off this planet. You may never know their names but you benefit from what they do every single day of your life. In the next few weeks many of them (those in the shuttle program, of course) will be out of work and they’ve known this was coming for months and years yet continued to put their best efforts in and show pride in what they do. Whether writing software, training astronauts, interpreting data into something usable, designing systems, building, or any of the million duties that are required for success, every single one of them is an imperative piece to the giant puzzle that is spaceflight.

Watching people I admire, even love in many cases, lose their dream jobs and do it with a smile and gratitude they even got to be a part of this for awhile has completely changed my perspective on heroes. Sure, there is bitterness as well, but the grace with which most are accepting their fates is something beyond admirable. Some of them will never be able to sell their houses and move where jobs are available. Some of them will lose everything they’ve worked for all these years, serving the American public in a concrete way politicians could never understand. I have never seen so many houses for sale that will probably not find a buyer as on the Space Coast. It’s easy to look at numbers and dismiss them, after all, what’s thousands of jobs lost in an economy that has lost millions of them? Getting to spend a lot of time in an area that likely won’t recover anytime soon, no matter what the national economy does, provides insight into how disjointed America can be. We are not just two nations occupying the same plot of land as some would say, we are thousands of micro-societies with unique problems and things to contribute to the whole.

When the shuttle lands tomorrow an era that has been an integral part of any greatness America can claim to have will be over. No matter how quickly we can get new programs going the end of this era will also signal an end to a community of the best and brightest we have produced as a nation. They span the nation, most obviously in Florida and Texas but also in hundreds of towns you would never think of as being enhanced by the shuttle program. Some will move into different areas of space work, others will have to move into fields they have never wanted to be part of because there just isn’t enough room for them in a scaled-down space industry. Their training as NASA or NASA contractor employees is incredibly valuable to many industries but many of those industries are ones that simply don’t contribute to our society in the ways that truly matter. I wish we could keep them working for the greater good instead of helping to line the pockets of the already-wealthy. Even worse, they will no longer be working as a team.

Do I think NASA should be a jobs program? No. Is there bloat and waste in the agency? Absolutely. However, the way to fix that is not to push out the very people who can take us to greater heights as a community, a nation, and even the global community of humans. As citizens of one of the few nations with the resources to embark upon these grand adventures in science and exploration we are responsible to be angry on the behalf of heroes.

But first, just find yourself a shuttle worker today and say a heartfelt, “Thank you.” A small gesture, to be sure, but one they could use a whole lot more of.

I’m thrilled to add this has been cross-posted at the Space Tweep Society blog at http://www.spacetweepsociety.org/2011/07/20/heroes/

Once In a Lifetime May 23, 2011

Posted 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!

Go Atlantis!

How to Love a Space Geek – A Guide for Family and Friends May 19, 2011

Posted by craftlass in life lessons, marriage, NASA, space, travel.

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.

Dragon in the sky after STS-131

This was created by the trail of STS-131, a unique formation lit up from beneath by the rising sun just after the launch.

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.

The author poses with the trail from STS-134

Me with the trail of STS-134 from the privileged vantage point of Turn Basin. Notice the extreme joy on my face, which barely represents how I felt in that moment.

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?

The Big House at the Countdown Clock

Members of my first household for the STS-133 NASA Tweetup (the Big House) pose with the famous countdown clock at the KSC press site. Mostly strangers a couple of days before this was taken, now people I would do almost anything for.

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, 2011

Posted 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!

Go Endeavour!

If you want to follow along my group’s launch activities watch the #ninjacrew hashtag and list on Twitter.

How Could Something So Wonderful Be So Bittersweet? February 28, 2011

Posted 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.

Tweeps on Spacevidcast

Some of the tweetuppers appearing on Spacevidcast, most SpaceTweeps' favorite show for all things space.

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.

Shannon Walker speaks

Shannon Walker tells the tweetuppers about her time on the ISS.

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.

Tweetuppers hold up a sign for the astronauts

@jenni88, @natronics, & @SpaceKate show off the sign they made for waving to the astronauts in the Astrovan.

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.

Gavin and Andy Prep for Launch

@charmcitygavin and @AVClubVids prepare for launch.

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?

A NASA Tweetupdate December 9, 2010

Posted by craftlass in Discovery, NASA, NASAtweetup, SpaceTweeps.
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My last two posts were about the STS-133 NASA Tweetup. My two newest songs were inspired by it, with more rumbling around in my brain waiting to be properly distilled. In the meantime, all of us tweetuppers and launch chasers have been on a roller coaster ride of anticipation and disappointment as the dates for the launch keep moving.

I thought this would be a good time to give a little insight on what it’s like to be a space geek as I go through one of the harder parts of being one.

Here’s the thing: Space flight is difficult at the best of times. When things go wrong they can’t be overlooked, especially when there will be people onboard. The first thing on any real space geek’s mind is the safety of this crew of truly the best and brightest. We know the risks and we want NASA and everyone involved to do what is best for the mission. We don’t matter. What we want is not important. We know this.

Yet… yet…

This does affect us. Not just us, our family, friends, and co-workers. In some cases it impacts our ability to make money. I’m scared to make plans, book gigs. There is no way that Discovery is leaving on her final mission without me there to wave her off. It doesn’t matter how much it costs or what I have to do  to get there, I will be there. So, like everyone else in my position, I eagerly lap up crumbs of information when they become available and shift my plans as the dates change. I’m just lucky I’ve only burned through one set of plane tickets, for the December 3rd window.

Launch Timeline


Original first day of NASA Tweetup


Original launch date (delayed) (disregarding earlier dates, this was the first one after the tweetup was scheduled)

Actual first day of NASA Tweetup


Next launch attempt

Actual second day of NASA Tweetup (tours)


Next launch attempt (delayed)


Next launch attempt (scrubbed)


NET (No Earlier Than) date for launch attempt (delayed before it was fully confirmed)


NET date for launch attempt (delayed before it was fully confirmed)


Current NET date for launch attempt

Meanwhile, we’re surviving this time just like we survived the disappointment in Florida, together. Virtually, of course, which does have a disappointing lack of real hugs, but is essentially us going back to our usual thing only better, as we are connected to even more people. If planning  that trip and being together in Florida was the foundation of our friendship this time is the steel beams that let it become a skyscraper.

We’ve watched a Soyuz land and a few satellites launch together. We followed history in the making with the test flight of the Falcon 9 yesterday. We’ve discussed arsenic-loving “aliens” on Earth. We’ve been eagerly following the exploits of the Meteorite Men together (including my brief appearances in this week’s Wisconsin episdode). We’ve gasped with awe at the images from the Solar Dynamics Observatory. We eagerly anticipate the Geminids meteor shower. We’ve debated the best spacey gifts for Christmas. We’ve learned more about how an external tank is made than most of us ever thought we would. Oh, we’ve had lots of distractions! Good ones, too.

Through it all, though, there is that undercurrent of anticipation for STS-133 still. Back before the first attempt, I was excited for the launch itself and the official tweetup events the most. This time, while launch is certainly a top priority, I’m most looking forward to seeing my new family.

We’re on round 3 of making plans together, re-forming houses, debating when is best to buy plane tickets and which airline will give us the best deals on changing them yet again, and trying to look forward while struggling to not let our emotions strangle us.

Me? I’m working on a lot of plans for February and beyond… all the while realizing that those plans may have to change with almost no notice.

You know what? It’s worth it.

This Most Awesome Space Cathedral November 19, 2010

Posted 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.

VAB from Turn BasinI 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.

VAB from the BaseOn 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.

VAB InteriorThe 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…

Shuttle LiftWherever 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.