From Dreams to Liftoff: The Transformative Power of NASA’s Social Initiatives

In November 2009, I achieved a lifelong dream of experiencing a Space Shuttle launch in person at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. I never thought I’d see the Space Shuttle stack with my own eyes, much less witness a launch from the press site just 3 miles away. So many things I never thought I would experience happened during my first NASA Tweetup trip that I still struggle to put the experience into words today. Humbling. Life-affirming. Majestic. Inspiring. Compelling. Uplifting.
These words, even in sum, do not adequately express how I felt during my time in Florida for the STS-129 NASA Tweetup. Perhaps the most authentic account of my experience remains the emotional video I posted just 24 hours after the launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis. The video, far better than any words I’ve written on the topic, explains the depth of my appreciation.

What is a NASA Tweetup (now called NASA Social)?

NASA Tweeps who participated in a unique two-day Tweetup for the liftoff of space shuttle Atlantis at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. pose for a group photograph next to the launch countdown clock, Monday, Nov. 16, 2009. Photo Credit: (NASA/Carla Cioffi)

A meetup of Twitter followers is known as a tweetup.  NASA periodically organizes and hosts a NASA Social (formerly NASATweetup) at a NASA center and/or event. Due to the popularity of these meetups, attendance is limited to selected group of NASA’s Twitter followers who register during the tweetup’s registration period. NASA Tweetup registration periods vary, with the shortest (24 hours) applying to launch tweetups like the one I attended in 2009. Most other NASA tweetups, such as those held at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., have registration periods of from 2 to 5 days.To learn about upcoming NASA Social events, be sure to follow @NASAsocial on Twitter. Also, watch the #NASASocial hashtag on Twitter search for great NASA and space conversation even in between NASA social events!

Caution: May be Habit Forming!

After attending my first NASA Tweetup (the launch of STS-129 at KSC), I was hooked! In January 2010, registration opened for the first-ever NASA Tweetup held at Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas. Commonly known to the public as Mission Control – Houston, JSC is the home of NASA’s human spaceflight training, research and mission control operations. Since JSC is just several hour’s drive from my home in San Antonio, Texas, I registered with enthusiasm and hoped for the best. This tweetup was held during Space Shuttle Endeavour‘s STS-130 mission to the International Space Station (ISS), and I was again blessed to have my name selected as an attendee.

I admit having some fear that, having already experienced a launch tweetup, any future NASA Tweetup experiences might fall short. I quickly learned that fear was unfounded. My STS-130 NASA Tweetup experience again brought me closer to our nation’s space program than I ever hoped to get as an ordinary citizen. Every NASA Tweetup is unique in terms of what attendees get to experience and explore, and I can confirm this from personal experience, having been lucky enough to return to JSC for the STS-133 NASA Tweetup on November 10, 2010. Even without Space Shuttle Discovery on orbit for the tweetup, as originally planned, my brother (my registered tweetup guest) and I got an insider’s view of the work going on at the space center.

The consistent feature of all NASA Tweetup events is the inspiring and passionate group of people, from NASA employees and contractors to fellow NASA Tweetup attendees, each one brings together. Sharing time with subject matter experts and fellow space enthusiasts has been, without fail, the most valuable and meaningful takeaway from my NASA Tweetup experiences.

Where to, Now?

Space Shuttle Atlantis prior to rollout for STS-135, just after rollback of the Rotating Service Structure (RSS). Photo by Shannon Blackburn

I have always been a passionate space enthusiast, but I have not always had access to a community of like-minded people (Space Tweeps). I am now unapologetically “addicted” to NASA Tweetups, but finances, time, and fairness to others prevent me from registering for many. Through the wonders of Twitter and websites such as Spacevidcast (TMRO), however, I have been a “virtual participant” at numerous NASA socials and related space enthusiast gatherings, such as SpaceUp San DiegoSpaceUp DC and the (repeated) launch attempts of STS-133. It was also my distinct honor to be a returning invitee at the STS-135 NASATweetup for the final Space Shuttle launch on July 8, 2011.

To this day, the impact of NASA’s social initiatives on my life remains substantial, granting me an abundance of enriching experiences, invaluable connections, and dear friends.

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