Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Shuttle and Tuttle


My hometown newspaper The Herald Bulletin ran a nice article on July 16, 2011 about my NASA Tweetup and shuttle experience. The image above was from the paper's homepage.

You can view the story on their website here: http://heraldbulletin.com/local/x1475587244/Anderson-native-awestruck-at-shuttle-launch. Here are also PDF versions of the newspaper's homepage and full story on A3.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Smile Because It Happened (Launch Day) - July 8, 2011

Post on July 8, 2011

Atlantis lit up in the predawn. I took this shortly after arrival.
After only a couple hours of light sleep, I woke up to my iPhone's sci-fi alarm at 2 a.m. We had been instructed yesterday (Thursday, July 7) to check to see if NASA was going to fuel up Atlantis. And sure enough, even though there was only a 30% chance of the weather being good enough for Atlantis to launch, she was being fueled up. By fueling up the shuttle this meant if NASA had to scrub the launch later that day there would be a 48 hour delay until the next launch attempt.

As I got up in the darkened hotel room, I hoped that I wouldn't be too tired to enjoy the main event of the day still scheduled for 11:26 a.m. EDT (and that the shuttle would actually get to launch!) Staying at an average hotel room in Titusville, my total stay of 6 days there was costing over $1200 for a room that usually goes for about $60 a night. I had booked the more expensive hotel to quiet my nagging fear of missing the launch while stuck in traffic trying to drive in from Orlando, where I had originally booked a hotel stay for a much cheaper cost.

I was also still trying that morning to arrange a ride into the tweetup since my boyfriend and kids would need the car to catch their boat ride out to the Banana River where they would be viewing the launch. Luckily, David let me hitch a ride into KSC with him again. In turn his girlfriend hitched a ride with my family.

VAB parking lot still fairly empty at 5 a.m.
As we left around 4 a.m. traffic was already starting to get bad, and hundreds of people were already waiting in the Astronaut Hall of Fame viewing area miles and miles away from the launch site. We also were seeing a bright glow on the horizon in front of us and wondered if it was the shuttle being illuminated at night. Upon our arrival back to the VAB parking lot, the lot was still rather empty but in the press area, tons of media were already filling up every available inch of space. And then we were greated with a beautiful site. Atlantis was lit up like a Christmas tree on Christmas morning (see above photo.) It was such a beautiful sight to receive in the early monring hours before the big present of the launch would, hopefully, be delivered to everyone.

Lori Garver made another appearance in our tent at the start of the day. I was surprised that she and other high profile NASA officials were coming to talk to us when surely they were very busy and about to have an incredibly hectic day. Just yesterday Angie Brewer, the flow director for Atlantis, had spoken to us even though she was scheduled to be prepping the space shuttle at 1 or 2 a.m. today. It was also surreal to see these NASA people show up in our tent and then moments later appear on the live NASA TV playing in our tent to address the media.

Here was the schedule of events for the big day:

Friday, July 8/ Launch: Tweetup Day 2
6:30 a.m. – Robotic Refueling Mission demonstration
7:00 a.m. – Group picture beside the countdown clock (Click link to view the photo. Can you spot me?)
7:05 a.m. – Astronaut Tony Antonelli, STS-119, STS-132
7:40 a.m. – Tweetup wave to the crew as they drive by in the astrovan on their way to the launch pad
8:00 a.m. – Bob Crippen, STS-1, STS-7, STS-41C, STS-41G
8:30 a.m. – Lt. Col. Patrick Barrett, 45th Weather Squadron, U.S. Air Force
11:26 a.m. – Launch of space shuttle Atlantis on the STS-135 mission

Me with astronaut Tony Antonelli
The weather wasn't as bad as it had been yesterday, but we were still getting rain on and off and on again. We went out to wave to the STS-135 astronauts as they were heading to the launch pad. Here is a photo from that:
The astronauts van in front of the VAB
After waving to Sandy, Rex, Chris, and Doug, I almost missed seeing astronaut Bob Crippin when making my way back to the tweetup tent. I was able to catch most of his discussion and shot this brief video of him.



Astronaut Tony Antonelli also spoke to us. He is learning Russian and going through a battery of physicals and tests to be in line for a launch on the Soyuz. 

Seth Green was at the NASA Tweetup event for the launch of shuttle Atlantis STS-135 too. Seth introduced the STS-135 theme song composed by Bear McCreary (creator of Eurkea and Battlestar Galactica's theme.) During the song, I recorded the live NASA TV stream that was playing in the tent as it was showing the STS-135 astronauts getting prepped for launch.

I also got to speak with Seth and tell him how much I enjoy his work. I told him that my sons and I really enjoy Robot Chicken Star Wars. He cringed a bit, looked concerned, and asked, "How old are your kids?" I  said their teenagers, 14 and 16 years old. He looked a bit more at ease but said, "That's right on the age line."
Me and Seth Green. He took this pic with my iPhone.
I wish I'd had something cool for Seth to sign like my Robot Chicken DVDs, but I didn't. At least I got a picture with him. I knew I'd need that to get credit with my teenagers. When my sons heard about me meeting Seth they were envious. I laughed when my 14 year old said to me later, "I hear Seth is concerned that I like to watch Star Wars Robot Chicken."

We were all getting very anxious for launch. On NASA TV we were watching the astronauts getting ready for the launch. Some NASA officials came into the tent to let us know that things were looking good with the weather for the launch. Soon thereafter people started to make their way outside. I had been frantically trying to charge up my video and still camera batteries. I was also having a last minute panic when my video camera SD card was full after recording the Bear McCreary song. I was so glad that I found out before the launch that my card was full rather than during the launch..

I made my way outside to check on the status of my tripod that I had set up when arriving that morning. There was someone who had set up a tripod directly behind me (that never showed up) as well as a crush of photographers on either side of me. Another NASA Tweetup person was near me too. The professional news photographers were rather rude to us NASA tweetup peeps, but I stood my ground. I wasn't going to move now and miss the launch. Besides, I'd staked out this spot a long time before they had shown up.

Waiting for the launch, I was very quiet. Some people were screaming. Others were making small talk. I was just taking it all in. I didn't want to forget this moment. I was also nervously fumbling with my video camera and borrowed SLR camera (which was constantly acting up.) While waiting for the launch I drafted a quick tweet: Ready for launch! Godspeed Atlantis.  .

Here is my video from the launch:


The launch was spectacular! I had fortunately remembered to get my sunglasses from my purse moments before the launch. A delay happened at 31 seconds to launch, I wondered if that was it. Was it all going to end without a launch?

Then NASA made the decision to go for it! The countdown started again. A small cloud could be seen rising from the launch pad, and then almost in slow motion at first the shuttle started to rise into the sky.


There were moments that the exhaust flames were brighter than starring at the sun. I tried to take some pics and record the best video I could while not spending the whole time looking into either of them too much. I'm not a professional photographer or videographer, but I still wanted to have my own digital memories of the event. I also wanted to watch all of it with my own eyes. And it was all going by soooo fast!

Atlantis was high in the sky when the sound started to reach us. I was expecting it to be extremely loud maybe like a jet engine, but it was so much more intense. It started off just like a extremely loud jet engine noise. Then it became more so much more than just sound. It was a vibration and sound. I could actually feel the sound. There was a fluttering and rattling sensation happening inside my ribs and chest from the sound...it was amazing!

The cloud cover was very low so Atlantis disappeared into them rather quickly. We were not able to see the separation of the solid rocket boosters as this happened after they went into the clouds. I was slightly disappointed that I would never see that happen now, but I was also still recovering from how amazing everything else was that I had just witnessed.

The weight of the day had suddenly hit me. All of the history of this area. The astronauts had safely launched. It was the end of the shuttle era. This was my first and last shuttle launch. I hadn't jumped up and down. I hadn't yelled. I had just experienced it. I had just absorbed it all. After filming some more of the clouds and taking a few more pictures, I gathered up my tripod to head back to the tent to see what was happening on NASA TV.

I was starting to feel some tears coming into my eyes, but then I thought, "Don't cry because it is over. Smile because it happened." I came across another tweetup person whose name I don't recall because I was still recovering and processing everything I had just experienced. We chatted excitedly about what had just happened. I only realized later that my video camera was still recording so I have audio of that shuttle launch afterglow conversation.

Back in the tent we could see that Atlantis was making its way safely into low Earth orbit. It was amazing to think just moments before we had watched them take off and now they were in outer space. I had a tweet I had composed outside that I was still trying to send out because the wireless and 3G network had briefly gone out most likely from everyone trying to connect at the same time. Here is my tweet that finally went through: Amazing!!! Amazing!!! Amazing!!! Liftoff Atlantis!!! Last shuttle launch ever and my first one ever!!! Thank you, thank you 

We got to stay in the tent awhile longer working on our photos, videos, and thoughts as well as tweeting away the afternoon. From M&Ms we got special limited edition (only 160 made) tins containing M&Ms with the date, shuttles, and 3,2,1 liftoff printed on them. We also got pins and shirts from niconico.com. My 16 year old son told me later that NicoNico was the Japanese version of YouTube.

At one point Trent Perrotto, a NASA public affairs officer, made his way over to our table. At our table was @DavidJulyan @KellySchwark @GrizzGuy @GoodGadd  Perrotto wanted to know what we thought. I was still babbling about it all being amazing...I wore out the word amazing that day.

Some people started to leave the tent. Stephanie and John invited people to come up to the mic and share their thoughts. Lots of us stayed and listened. I think a lot of us might have stayed there all day and into the night if they would have let us. And then like the not-so-subtle hint you give to a house guest that is overstaying their welcome, we were told, "Feel free to stay, but we're shutting off the wi-fi soon."

I figured out a ride off of KSC grounds. While waiting for my ride out, I stood outside in the press area soaking in my last few moments there. Most of the media had already left. Somewhere in that press area field I lost my NASA button that I had gotten five years earlier on my first visit here. My small offering to the NASA grounds. It seemed like more than a fair trade.

On our way out to the VAB parking lot, we saw that the doors to the VAB that are normally closed were wide open and music was floating out into the steamy Florida afternoon. Jimmy Buffet was playing live in there. The NASA employees were having a big party to end all parties. I'm sure this day was very emotional for NASA employees on many levels. Some would no longer have a job after this final launch.

30 years of space shuttles had been a good run. Now we must look to the future...may it hold even better space adventures for all of us!

Find more of my pictures from this day on Flickr:


Shuttle Atlantis STS-135 Predawn - July 8, 2011 http://www.flickr.com/photos/50320537@N03/sets/72157627168805042/

Also be sure to check out NASA HQ's Flickr account at:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/nasahqphoto/ 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Best of Times and Worst of Times - July 7, 2011

Post from July 7, 2011

The first day of the NASA Tweetup started very early, before sunrise. I had arranged to carpool with two other space tweeps (Nicole from Canada and Jeremy from Twitter) who were staying at hotels in Titusville near where I was staying too. The driver, Nicole, experienced an unexpected delay. She still needed to get her badge, but when she showed up at 5 a.m. for her to get it...they did not have her information. Without it she would not be able to drive us to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) parking lot near the press area and tweetup tent. Luckily while there we ran into a super nice and helpful Englishman, David Julyan (a film composer), who was also attending the NASA Tweetup. He offered to give Jeremy and I a ride. [It took Nicole several hours, but fortunately she got things straightened out to attend.]

We arrived at the Vehicle Assembly Building parking lot and on the walk over I snapped this picture of me with VAB in the background. The VAB is huge! It houses the space shuttles between launches. The american flag painted on it is enormous. To attempt to grasp the large scale of the building, just the blue star field area of the flag is the size of a regulation basketball court!

The sky was very gray that morning and a few rain drops were already falling on us during the walk to the press area and the tweetup tent. The rain would only get worse as the day progressed. On the walk over I started meeting other participants including Shannon who, although not a NASA employee, is the defacto den mother of these tweetups.


We also got introductions from many of the wonderful NASA people making this event possible like @schierholz @yembrick @bethbeck @jtownsI had met Stephanie Schierholz in person yesterday when getting my badge. She has done a lot of amazing hard word to get NASA to embrace social media and hold these tweetup events. Beth Beck came over to the table I was seated at along with Jeremy, @pillownaut, @s_boots, and @aewrght.) Beth is working on the wonderful Fragile Oasis website (http://www.fragileoasis.org/)  with @Astro_Ron Garan who is currently onboard the International Sapce Station. Weeks early before even applying for this tweetup I actually follwed a live tweetup given by Ron on Twitter from the ISS, and I had found out then about some of the exciting work and positive changes that Fragile Oasis wants to bring to our planet. Lori Garver, the Deputy Administrator of NASA kicked off the event (her picture at leftt) and Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Space Operations Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters (his picture at right) also spoke to us.


Here is the schedule for the Thursday events (even though things got pretty off schedule after the the Elmo and astronauts presentation because we were having a severe thunderstorm with lightening, and we were not allowed to leave the tent for over an hour.)

Thursday, July 7/L-1: Tweetup Day 1
  •  Tracy Thumm (@ISS_Research) and Justin Kuglerm (@ISS_NatLab), International Space Station Program, NASA's Johnson Space Center spoke to us
  • Elmo, Sesame Street (@SesameStreet) interacts with STS-109 and STS-125 Astronaut Mike Massimino (@Astro_Mike) and STS-120 Astronaut Doug Wheelock (@Astro_Wheels)
  • Massimino and Wheelock answer questions from the tweetup participants
  • Angie Brewer, space shuttle Atlantis' flow director, Kennedy Space Center
  • Lunch at the employee commissary
  • Board buses for Launch Pad 39A to view the retraction of the Rotating Service Structure.
  • Tour inside of the VAB
  • Visit to the Apollo Saturn V Center

Here are some photos from the morning:



Me with astronaut Mike Massimino
I was sitting so close I was able to get in the picture!

Mike Massimino, Sesame Street's Elmo, and Doug Wheelock

I have about an hour of video with Mike Massimino, Doug Wheelock, and Elmo that I've uploaded to YouTube in multiple parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. NASA was also airing this live on ustream, and their recording of it is available here: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/15849221/highlight/185193. Doug stayed with us throughout the day and had so many amazing stories to tell us.

It was still very hot, muggy, sticky, and raining outside, but after the torrential rain and severe lightening storm had passed we were able to go eat lunch. Joining me at my table for lunch were Jason Snell (Editorial Director of Macworld) and Teresa Isaac (a former mayor.) One of the incredibly cool things about this event were all of the interesting and successful people from all different professions and walks of life that I was getting to meet and talk with during the tweetup.

Because of the terrible whether we weren't sure that we would get to see the Rotating Service Structure (RSS) retraction that would revel the shuttle Atlantis. Fortunately there was a break in the rain, and we were able to head out to see Atlantis on the launch pad!
Rolling up to Atlantis on launch pad before RSS retraction

Me with Doug Wheelock right before RSS retraction

Atlantis on the launch pad after RSS (to the left) was retracted

Me with Atlantis

After getting to see Atlantis up close, we got back on the buses to go tour the inside the VAB. Being able to go inside the VAB is something very special since only NASA employees typically get access and not even reporters are often not allowed such access. Since the building is so large, I have posted a video here that tries to give a glimpse of the vastness of it.


This day had so many amazing moments and went by so quickly, I cannot possibly capture it all in this one post. I called this post the best of times and worst of times because there were so many wonderful experiences and events (the best of times) however I looked terrible from being rained on all day. It was hot and I was very sweaty so every picture of me looks really awful (the worst of times.) I have lovely "swamp hair" in every photo to immortalize such an amazing time in my life. Yet, I wouldn't trade anything that happened during the day, and it was an amazing day that I will never forget.

We left KSC this day not knowing whether the launch will scrub or delay on July 8. We've been told that if Atlantis starts fueling at 2 a.m. then we should expect them to try to launch on Friday. We are allowed back at the press area as early as 5 a.m. And with traffic expected to be terrible with a million people trying to watch the launch we'll be leaving very early to drive back. I'll be getting up very early again if they start to fuel Atlantis at 2 a.m.. No (or very little) sleep until launch, I guess.

To view more of my photos from this day, go to my photos from that day at NASA Tweetup - July 7, 2011

Day Before NASA Tweetup - July 6, 2011

Post from July 6, 2011

Today was the first day we were allowed to pick up our NASA Tweetup credentials so that is what I went to do right away in the morning. I got a schwag bag full of all kinds of NASA goodies including posters, toys, freeze dried ice cream, and STS-135 patch, pin, and sticker. (You can see more of it here on my Flickr account.)

I also got a free two-day admission to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC.) Our next stop was the KSC visitor complex  to get Scott and my two sons admission tickets so we could spend the day there. We watched the IMAX Space Station 3-D movie (which we’d seen before) and the IMAX 3-D Hubble movie (which we've been wanting to see for a long time now.) The Hubble movie had amazing imagery and featured an astronaut, Mike Massimino, who is a scheduled speaker tomorrow, July 7 at the NASA Tweetup!

We shopped at the gift shop where I bought way too much stuff--since I’d already ordered stuff online from home before the trip too-- including more shirts, hats, and a really cool pair of shuttle earrings. After viewing a few other exhibits, we then caught a bus to go out to the observation area near the shuttle which as close as regular visitors to KSC can get to see it on the launch pad.

Here is a photo of my sons, Matt and Ethan, with shuttle Atlantis in the background behind them in the distance.


We then made our way out to Cape Canaveral to see the SpaceX Dragon Spaceship on display. SpaceX has former astronauts working there in cooperation with NASA's commercial space division. They are working on private spaceships that might just be the future of American spaceflight.

You can view more of my photos from this day:

Monday, July 11, 2011

NASA Photos Uploaded to Flickr

I've got some photos uploaded to Flickr from my time at Kennedy Space Center on July 6-8 for the NASA Tweetup and shuttle Atlantis STS-135 launch. You can check them out here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/50320537@N03

I'm working on still tagging them all, but I've at least got them semi-organized into sets.

More to come...

Friday, July 8, 2011

NASA Tweetup and Launch Day for Shuttle Atlantis

Both today and yesterday have been so an amazing that it will take me some more time to pull together all my thoughts, photos, and videos from the truly once in a lifetime experience that was this NASA Tweetup for the last shuttle launch ever.

Yesterday was the first day of the NASA Tweetup. Today was the launch of the space shuttle Atlantis. So many amazing things happened so quickly that I will have further blogs posts to share all of that very soon.

For now I'm sharing here some raw footage I shot from today of the liftoff. It is very jittery but still amazing. The sound and the bright blast were beyond words. I'll have much more to share later after I've finally gotten a bit of sleep :)

Shuttle Launch Video


Monday, July 4, 2011

Florida, I'm Back!

The long road trip from Indiana to Florida started on Sunday. After spending way too many hours in a car, we arrived today, July 4 at our destination at a hotel very near the Kennedy Space Center. I reminded my boys that unlike on our car ride to Florida that when the astronauts went to the moon they traveled in a capsule smaller than our car, and they couldn't even get out to stretch their legs until they reached their destination on the moon.

The road trip was a bit of deja vu as we (my boyfriend and kids) had spent a family vacation in Florida last year in July visiting the Universal Studies theme park and the new Harry Potter attractions. We drove last year, my first time driving to Florida. It was a long drive then too. And it was very hot at the theme parks. The running joke last year was that we wouldn't vacation on the sun again next summer. And by vacation on the sun we meant anywhere that gets very hot in July, like Florida.

I really don't mind the heat, but I seem to be the only one in the family. We also agreed that the drive to Florida was too long so we would never do that again and instead fly when coming back to Florida again (preferably in a cooler month.)

Well never say never...Against pretty high odds, I was selected for this amazing NASA Tweetup experience, and so here we are again. And with the excitement of this adventure in front of me, the drive didn't seem quite so long this time. Plus, driving sure beats the price of trying to fly four people to Florida and back! Seeing the last shuttle launch and this NASA tweetup experience is priceless...however paying to get here and stay here is quickly becoming very expensive.

It is good to be back in Florida though. I really love the weather here (again, I don't mind the heat, and I love the water, sand, and palm trees.) I'm also glad that the boys will get to experience the Kennedy Space Center again. I took them to KSC for the first time five years ago (my first trip there too.) It was Florida in June that time, and we got to see a shuttle on the launch pad which was really cool...but we weren't around for the launch.

Before I was selected for the tweetup, we had planned a vacation this summer to stay in northern Michigan on a lake. I'm glad we still have that relaxacation coming up because I will probably need another vacation just to relax after all of the excitement of this one! We got our itinerary of events from NASA today, and it is packed full of wonderful experiences and events.

Here is a brief overview of the itinerary that NASA sent us today:


Thursday, July 7/L-1: Tweetup Day 1
10:30 a.m. – Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Space Operations Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters (NASA TV starts http://www.ustream.tv/nasatelevision)
10:50 a.m. – Elmo, Sesame Street (@SesameStreet) interacts with STS-109 and STS-125 Astronaut Mike Massimino (@Astro_Mike)
11:10 a.m. – Massimino answers questions from the tweetup participants
11:30 a.m. – Tracy Thumm (@ISS_Research) and Justin Kuglerm (@ISS_NatLab), International Space Station Program, NASA's Johnson Space Center
11:50 a.m. – Angie Brewer, space shuttle Atlantis' flow director, Kennedy Space Center
1:15 p.m. – Board buses for Launch Pad 39A to view the retraction of the Rotating Service Structure at 2 p.m.
3:15 p.m. – Tour of NASA's Kennedy Space Center, including visits to the Apollo Saturn V Center and the Vehicle Assembly Building and a drive by the Launch Control Center, Mobile Launch Platform and Orbiter Processing Facility.

Friday, July 8/ Launch: Tweetup Day 2
6:30 a.m. – Robotic Refueling Mission demonstration
7:00 a.m. – Group picture beside the countdown clock
7:05 a.m. – Astronaut Tony Antonelli, STS-119, STS-132
7:40 a.m. – Tweetup wave to the crew as they drive by in the astrovan on their way to the launch pad
8:00 a.m. – Bob Crippen, STS-1, STS-7, STS-41C, STS-41G
8:30 a.m. – Lt. Col. Patrick Barrett, 45th Weather Squadron, U.S. Air Force
11:26 a.m. – Launch of space shuttle Atlantis on the STS-135 mission


I'll make sure to document and post as much as can of this amazing week to share with everyone on this blog as well as Twitter and Facebook. Stay tuned...