Monday was the first official day of the STS-133 Tweetup and it was even more incredible than I had hoped it would be. Even if I couldn’t stay for the launch itself (a situation which many of the participants finds themselves in due to the multiple delays), yesterday alone would have made this whole trip worth it.
- We started out around noon by flashing our badges at the employee entrance gate and entering the Kennedy Space Center complex. As we drove to the launch pad complex press site, we could see the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) towering in the distance. It was pretty cool to see such an iconic piece of America’s space program growing larger as we approached the press site.
- As we got out at the press site, we got to see the row of buildings (fancy shacks) belonging to each of the major news agencies, the famous countdown clock and our first glimpse of Discovery sitting on the launch pad three miles away.
- Our main base of operations during the tweetup is a large tent set up in the field between the press buildings and the countdown clock. Inside, it’s filled with 150 space enthusiasts and all of our various photo, video and computing gear.
- Once things got underway, our first speaker was Bill Gerstenmaier, the associate adminstrator for NASA’s Space Operations Mission Directorate. He spoke in general terms about the future of NASA and showed us the piece of hardware which caused our first launch delay.
- Next came Discovery flow director Stephanie Stilson. When Discovery’s on the ground, she’s in charge of making sure that it follows the rehabilitation process and preparation for its next flight in a timely manner. She’ll also be the flow director for decommissioning and transfer of the three retired shuttles to their permanent homes.
- Twitter VP Jason Goldman talked to us briefly about Twitter’s development and involvement with things like the space program. He actually stayed with us all day as fellow Tweetup participant.
- Then astronaut Ron Garan spoke to us for about half an hour about his experience flying on Discovery a few years ago and his training for an upcoming six-month tour of duty on the International Space Station. He’s a former experimental jet pilot and tweets as @Astro_Ron.
- We saw a demonstration of Robonaut2, a copy of the unit headed up to the ISS on Discovery’s final mission. R2 is the first humanoid robot to be sent into space and is intended to eventually perform potentially dangerous duties that require the dexterity and fine touch of humans. As a demonstration of the robot’s safety designs, I was selected to shake R2′s hand (and I’m happy to report that he properly sensed the correct amount of pressure to apply and didn’t crush my hand). I have some cool video of R2 in action, but I probably won’t have time to edit it until I get back to Texas.
- Next we were given a demonstration of the Advanced Crew Escape Suit (ACES) worn by shuttle astronauts during takeoff and landing. The suits are designed to protect astronauts from fire, cold, depressurization and a host of other serve conditions. They’re modified versions of the flight suits used by high-altitude jet pilots and also hold an extensive collection of survival kit items in case astronauts are forced to bail out of the orbiter during a controlled flight.
- After that, we had a bit of a break in the day, so some of us ventured over to the VAB cafeteria to eat dinner and talk to some NASA employees. It also gave us a chance for a closer look at the VAB, which is an impressive building. In terms of interior volume, it’s the second-largest building in the world and is so tall that small rain clouds actually sometimes form inside the building itself.
- Finally the tour bus arrived and headed out for the highlight of the day – a trip out to the launch pad and a viewing of Discovery. The orbiter itself wasn’t visible because the Rotating Service Structure (RSS) was still in place last night, but it still was amazing to be standing just a few hundred yards away from such an incredible vehicle. The RSS will be removed tonight and we’ll be returning to the pad to take more pictures.
- After that, we were treated to a private trip to the Apollo/Saturn V Center. The exhibit was amazing, containing the actual Apollo launch control room and a Saturn V rocket. Some other cool things in the building included the Apollo 14 crew capsule and a moon rock. It was really nice to be there without huge crowds and the late night atmosphere added some geeky ambiance.
- Finally, we returned to the press site and our cars. A few of us stuck around for a little while to enjoy the silence and some one-on-one time with the countdown clock.
Today is a much lighter day for me. The remainder of the group is taking the tour today, but I don’t have to go out there until this evening for the RSS retraction. Here’s hoping that everything remains on track for tomorrow’s launch.
For a video of Monday's events, visit modernishfather.com.
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