NASA STS-134 Tweetup Blog Entries
Posted on May 27, 2011 12:41:59 PM | Mindi Capp
NASA hosted its first shuttle launch Tweetup in May 2010 for the STS-132 mission. A second launch Tweetup was held in February 2011 for the STS-133 mission. As an active follower of the @NASA twitter account, I’d seen posts about both of these events and the unique experiences the Tweetup participants had taken part in. So when a call for applicants for the STS-134 Tweetup went out, it piqued my interest.
The sign-up time period was only 24 hours long, and on a whim, I thought I’d sign up. With over 4,000 applicants and only 150 slots to fill, I really didn’t think I’d have a chance to actually get selected. But I thought, “why not, might as well give it a shot.”
So, when I received the email telling me that I’d been selected, I couldn’t believe it! After checking the calendar, I eagerly responded to accept the invitation.
And then the waiting game began. The launch date that was originally planned for April 19 slipped to April 29 because of a scheduling conflict with the arrival of a Progress re-supply vehicle at the space station. Luckily, the NASA team organizing the Tweetup was able to shift the Tweetup dates. Hotel, flights and rental car were booked, and I was ready to start my STS-134 Tweetup adventure!
participants received this poster as part of their Tweetup goodie bag.
Tweetup Day One
The first day of the Tweetup was a whirlwind filled with presentations, tours and getting to meet a lot of really awesome space enthusiasts!
After scoping out a prime spot near the front of the Tweetup tent, meeting everyone at my table, and setting up my laptop, it was time for the day’s events to begin. NASA public affairs officer John Yembrick welcomed everyone and kicked things off by having all 150 Tweetup participants introduce themselves. Hearing everyone’s background and where they were from was a fun ice-breaker.
After lunch, a group of NASA scientists and engineers presented on a variety of topics. We learned about the different layers of a spacesuit, exciting science experiments taking place on the space
station, and what it takes to keep everything on track to get a space shuttle mission off the ground. Astronaut Clay Anderson was the rock star of the day though. Hearing him speak about what it’s like to orbit the planet was amazing.
Next up for the day was a tour of some of the facilities at Kennedy Space Center. The highlight of the tours for me was definitely getting to go inside the Vehicle Assembly Building. The VAB is one of the largest buildings in the world. Originally built for assembly of the Saturn V rockets that took astronauts to the moon, it’s currently used for shuttle assembly. During the tour, I overheard a fellow tweep call the building a “cathedral to exploration,” and I couldn’t agree more with the comparison. The sheer size of the building inspired such an incredible sense of awe. And to think of the history, of all of the rockets that have been assembled there, it was truly an honor to be walking on such hallowed ground.
A trip to watch the retraction of the Rotating Service Structure (the gantry on the launch pad that protects the shuttle and allows for payload packing) had to be scrubbed due to thunderstorms. So it was back to the hotel for the evening. Time to rest up and dream of a shuttle launch!
Standing inside the Vehicle Assembly Building is amazing
Pictures don’t do it justice!
Tweetup Day Two -- Launch Day!
Didn’t get much sleep last night! Too excited about seeing the launch today!
We kicked off the morning with a group photo near the famous countdown clock.
The STS-134 Tweetup participants pose for a picture next to the countdown clock.
Then it was back to the tent to hear from astronaut Ricky Arnold and astronaut and Associate Administrator for Education Leland Melvin. Both had really inspiring stories of what led them to NASA and how education played a key role in their career choices.
LEGO designer Daire McCabe spoke to us about the LEGO kits heading to the space station aboard space shuttle Endeavour. The astronauts are going to assemble the kits, and kids on Earth can watch videos of the assembly and build along with the astronauts. I’m excited to see what kind of creative masterpieces the astronauts build without the constraints of gravity.
After a visit from weather officer Patrick Barrett, who gave us an optimistic report on launch time weather, the group headed out to the Saturn Causeway to watch the Astrovan with the crew drive by on their way to the launch pad. This was something I was looking forward to almost as much as getting to see a launch. Waving to a group of people just hours before they rocket off of the planet is a pretty amazing thing to do.
As we waited for the Astrovan, there were rumblings of a possible launch delay. Some of the press corps were getting updates and things weren’t sounding too promising. But then we saw the van heading our way and our hopes lifted. As the van approached, we began to cheer and the excitement was palpable. Then the van turned directly in front of us and headed to a parking area behind mission control. We knew this wasn’t a good sign. After sitting for a few minutes, the van came back to the causeway and turned back toward the crew quarters, away from the launch pad.
We later learned that a problem with an auxiliary power unit caused the scrub. Tests were being run, and no one was sure how long the delay would last. 24 hours? 48 hours? Longer? No one knew.
Everyone packed up their things and said their goodbyes. By the time we left the Tweetup tent, we’d learned that the delay would be at least 48 hours. My flight home to Chicago was scheduled for the next morning, and the timing wouldn’t work for me to extend my stay in Florida. I headed back home hoping for a longer delay to allow me to come back for another shot at seeing a launch.
Launch Day, Take Two
The launch date for STS-134 was rescheduled to Monday, May 16. Unfortunately, I was unable to go back to Florida to see the launch in person. Almost 80 of the original 150 Tweetup participants were able to make the trip though, and I followed along via Twitter as they trekked back to Florida.
Early in the morning of launch day, I started following tweets from the press site and could sense the excitement building. A group of tweeps made signs that said “No U-Turns” and “Launchpad ” to point the Astrovan in the right direction and avoid any more disappointing turnarounds.
No U-turns were made and space shuttle Endeavour lifted off on time at 8:56 a.m. EDT. Watching the launch on television was a little bittersweet. I wish I could have been there to see it in person and feel the vibration of launch from only three miles away. But I was also excited for all of my new Tweetup friends who were able to have such an amazing experience. Living vicariously through their tweets, pictures and videos made the launch special, even if I wasn’t there to witness it in person.
NASA Tweetup participants
watch from the press site as space shuttle
Endeavour and her crew head into
Want to experience a space shuttle launch Tweetup for yourself? NASA recently announced that it will be holding a Tweetup event for the final space shuttle launch! Go on fun tours, hear from cutting-edge NASA researchers and astronauts, and watch from only three miles away as space shuttle Atlantis launches to space!
Registration will open at noon EDT on June 1, 2011, and will be open for 24 hours. Tweet your registration and keep an eye out for a confirmation email. 150 lucky participants will be selected!
For more information, visit http://www.nasa.gov/connect/tweetup/tweetup_ksc_07-07-2011.html.
And be sure to follow @NASA for all of the latest NASA news via Twitter.
Posted on Apr 12, 2011 02:44:00 PM | hrsmith
A few years ago, in 2007, I wrote the feature article “International Teams Join Moonbuggy Race” about the first international teams, from Canada and Germany, to join the NASA Great Moonbuggy Race. In the short time since, the international participation in the race has grown astoundingly with multiple teams from multiple countries designing and racing! This year, more than 70 teams from 22 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, Germany, India and Russia took part in the race.
I and other moonbuggy workers who were stationed at one of the course’s toughest obstacles -- the “Luna-tic” Curve -- witnessed some spectacular spills at Friday’s race. One moonbuggy toppled backwards when the front of the buggy came up the first mound in the obstacle but couldn’t make it over. Others took the near 90-degree curve too fast and skidded sideways. The obstacles in the course push the moonbuggies to their limit. It’s fascinating to see where moonbuggy designs both fail and succeed. The buggies’ performances are testaments to students’ ingenuity and engineering.
Hungry for more NASA Great Moonbuggy Race details? Check out the offical NASA Great Moonbuggy Race webpage for photos, video and the list of winners.
The Big Impact of Three Small Letters
Posted on Apr 06, 2011 11:21:05 AM | hrsmith
A Q&A profile about NASA intern Stephen Pace
was posted this week on NASA’s For Students Higher Ed webpage. When I was reading through and editing Pace’s answers, I felt compelled to highlight here for students his story about how his GPA almost kept him out of grad school.
Pace was an A student in high school but primarily a C+ student in college. In his last year at Virginia Tech he decided he wanted to go on to graduate school, but the low GPA that resulted from his C+ study habits was a problem.
He hadn’t planned on going to graduate school until that last year, so GPA wasn’t something he had worried that much about. As part of his senior design class, Pace helped design a futuristic aircraft as an entry in the NASA Fundamental Aeronautics University Student Aircraft Design Competition. He discovered he enjoyed aircraft design and that he wanted to do more of it and that he wanted to continue with a graduate degree.
Unfortunately, the GPA was below the requirement to be accepted into graduate school at Virginia Tech, and his application was rejected. While disappointed, Pace worked hard on the NASA challenge in senior design class, and that hard work paid off, literally. Pace and his team members won the $5,000 cash first prize, coming in on top among 15 university undergraduate teams from around the world. After the win, Pace petitioned the university to reconsider his graduate school application based on his role in the team’s success in the contest. The response from the deciding official was no. The success in the contest showed that Pace would make a good engineer but a low GPA didn’t bode well for a successful graduate school experience.
Disappointed yet again, Pace didn’t give up! He did some research and found out about a program that would allow him to take graduate-level courses in a non-degree granting program, regardless of undergraduate GPA. “I took the same graduate-level courses I would have taken as if I had been accepted into the master’s aerospace engineering program,” Pace said. “After a year of graduate study, my graduate-level GPA was sufficient for acceptance into the graduate school and I was admitted. After another year of graduate study, I had completed all of the courses and requirements and earned my master’s degree in aerospace engineering in 2010. If I had never gotten involved in the NASA-sponsored aircraft design competition, I most likely would not have found my focus in aircraft design and be inspired to go on to graduate school.”
While writing up Pace’s profile that story about GPA stuck out to me, and I thought it was one that students out there might need to read because it demonstrates just how important things like GPA and NASA projects can be in directing and determining next steps.
Buckling Barrels to Build Better Rockets
Posted on Mar 18, 2011 10:22:05 AM | hrsmith
NASA is going to crush a giant can. The “can” is a 27.5-foot-wide-by-20-foot-tall, barrel-shaped section similar to the space shuttle external tank. The “crushing” is the application of potentially more than 1 million pounds of force on the barrel. At some point in the test, the force being applied to the barrel will cause the barrel to buckle. It’s that point that NASA engineers want to understand. They’ve used computer models to predict it and now they want to test it out. Does the moment at which the computer says the cylinder will buckle prove to be right?
Imagine taking your foot and stepping on a soda can. The soda can will buckle and bend and eventually crush underneath your weight. That’s the same thing NASA is doing here, except bigger! They want to know the exact point at which the giant aluminum lithium tank buckles. Launch vehicles experience pressure from all directions during a launch, whether it is due to the vehicle’s weight, thrust, aerodynamic pressure, and so on. Launch vehicles have to be built to withstand these millions of pounds of pressures, or loads, from multiple directions. This test is a critical part of that research.
I took a tour this week of the Structural and Dynamics Engineering Test Laboratory, where the oversize experiment is being conducted the morning of March 23 at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, in Huntsville, Ala. Guiding me on the tour were NASA test engineers Dee VanCleave and George Olden. Dee and George are part of the Structural Strength Test Group at Marshall.
These two and the whole Structural Test Group team have been preparing for this test for more than a year. Something of this magnitude took a lot of pre-planning. During the tour they told us how they had to manufacture larger tools just to do the necessary tasks to prepare the barrel (or test article, as it’s more officially known) and the facility for the test.
The results of the test will help NASA and commercial partners develop lighter launch vehicles. Today’s rockets are more robust than they have to be because the standards being used to make them are decades old. The findings from this research would be applied to the design and the development of rockets and aircraft -- or anything with a buckling critical cylindrical structure, George explained.
The Load Test Annex where the test will happen was built decades ago during the development of the Saturn V rocket. It was used in the late ’70s in the structural testing of the space shuttle external tank. Testing for the International Space Station, and other shuttle-related projects, took place in the adjoining Load Test Annex Extension. But the LTA is geared toward structural test projects of a larger magnitude -- large like the Saturn V and large like the external tank.
The test is a big deal -- literally, of course, but also in terms of the data NASA will gain. The data from this research will be used to make launch vehicles lighter, which means they are cheaper to launch and that they could carry more cargo. It’s also interesting to me to see a facility that was used in the testing of moon rockets and in the development of the space shuttle come back to life.
You can participate in a live webcast of the event via the MSFC Ustream channel, which will include video, Facebook and Twitter updates, beginning at 10:30 a.m. EDT the day of the event.
During the two-hour live stream you can see the test and also hear from the people behind it. Dee and George will be there talking about what’s going on and about some of the smaller-scale research that led up to this point. Also aired will be interviews with Dr. Mark Hilburger, senior research engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center and the principal investigator behind the project, and Mike Roberts, an engineer in Marshall’s Structural Strength Test branch and Marshall’s lead for this test activity.
Check out also the Shell Buckling Knockdown Factor Facebook page and the @nescnews Twitter feed.
Want to know more? Background information on the test and the research behind it can be found in the NASA news feature “NASA Readies for World’s Largest Can Crusher Test” and in the NASA Media Advisory about the event. There’s also an article from the NASA Engineering and Safety Center, or NESC who has requested the test, explaining how preliminary tests on smaller eight-foot cylinders confirm launch vehicle weight and cost savings. The NESC also published an article detailing the purpose of the Shell Buckling Knockdown Factor project.
A Good Reason to Wake Up Early
Posted on Mar 17, 2011 11:12:52 AM | hrsmith
Taking Up Space welcomes guest blogger Joel Stein, a student at Virginia Tech and an intern at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Stein participated in the March 4, 2011, in-flight education downlink with astronauts on the International Space Station.
Joel Stein enjoys a light moment prior to the downlink with
the space station. Image Credit: Emmett Given/NASA
Waking up at 4 a.m. is difficult for any college student, but Friday I had a particularly strong incentive to get up that early with the opportunity to speak with astronauts aboard the International Space Station. I was specifically asking (astronaut) Al Drew whether there was anything his training failed to prepare him for in space. I arrived at the Huntsville Operations Support Center at Marshall Space Flight Center at 5, where Joe Charbonnet and I were briefed on logistics for communicating with the ISS. At 6:08, we received a phone call from the ISS.
So what is it like speaking with people 300 kilometers above you? Beyond acknowledging that this would likely be the most expensive conversation I would have in my life, I had to adjust to hearing numerous echoes caused by the lag between the audio in our headsets and voices in the room. While I was warned about this in the briefing, I was disoriented at first when someone would seemingly cut off the astronauts in conversation because there was less lag in the phone through which we were speaking than in the headsets we were listening through the rest of the time.
Once I got accustomed to the numerous voices, speaking with the astronauts on the ISS was like speaking with friends over Skype, though the occasional weightless somersault reminded me they were in freefall. The crew was fun to talk to and it was interesting to hear about life and operations on the ISS.
From inside NASA’s Payload Operation Center, Joel Stein
talks on the telephone to astronauts on the space station. Image Credit: Emmett Given/NASA
NASA Values Education
Posted on Mar 17, 2011 10:48:56 AM | hrsmith
Taking Up Space welcomes guest blogger Joe Charbonnet, a student at Georgia Tech and an intern at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Charbonnet participated in the March 4, 2011, in-flight education downlink with astronauts on the International Space Station.
From inside NASA’s Payload Operations Center, Joe Charbonnet
(center) talks to the astronauts on the International Space Station. On either
side of Charbonnet are NASA intern Joe Stein and NASA writer Heather R. Smith,
who also talked to astronauts during the call. Image Credit: Emmett Given/NASA
Participating in the downlink with the STS-133 and Expedition 26 crew was a truly special experience. Beyond just the undeniable and perhaps cliché “cool factor” of being in a control room surrounded by people simultaneously monitoring six display consoles and wearing a headset while talking to astronauts in space, the event was enlightening in the insight that it provided to the perspective of our astronauts.
It was commented that given the cost of having the ear of eight astronauts for 25 minutes, this is likely the most expensive phone call I will have ever made in my life. It is a testament then to the value that we put on education here at NASA, that this opportunity was deemed worthy of those resources. I believe that the astronauts themselves endorsed this value when Captain Steve Bowen said that the inspiration of young people to pursue the sciences is the most valuable accomplishment to come out of spaceflight so far. I can think of no better way to invest our time and resources at NASA than encouraging the pursuit of scientific discovery and exploration that can liberate the minds and spirits of our youth.
I was particularly struck by Mission Specialist Nicole Stott’s answer to the question of which missions from spaceflight’s history she would most like to have flown on. In responding that she would most like to fly on the missions that she has, in fact, flown during her career, she reminded me that despite its recent relative lack of media coverage, spaceflight is still exceptionally rare and that each mission is extremely valuable. We have made a mere handful --less than 200 -- manned trips into space. We are making excitingly new and significant discoveries each time we fly and truly blazing the way for future generations of astronauts to make bounds beyond what we can conceive of at this time. And though not quite as select a group as the Mercury Seven, today’s astronauts will still be seen as the venerable pioneers of the frontier of space. This was a thought that had not occurred to me until hearing Mission Specialist Stott’s answer, and consequently was one of the most intellectually enlightening points of the downlink for me personally.
I also was struck by the heavy focus that robotics received in the blog readers’ questions. A full 20 percent of the questions explicitly discussed robotics in space, and I believe that that shows great promise for this field of study as we as a society progress technologically. I think that the response to the question which I asked Colonel Eric Boe really set the stage for that line of discussion throughout the half hour. By responding that our progress in the development of robots today is analogous to that of computers 50 years ago, he conjectured a future in which robotics plays an integral role in not just spaceflight but everyday life. This is an exciting implication of the progress that NASA has made towards technology that could one day be considered essential to life on Earth. As Mission Specialist Stott later pointed out, robots are primarily a convenience -- albeit a tremendous one -- at this point in our spaceflight systems. From the prospective of these astronauts, one day soon we will have robots contributing not only in ways that humans couldn’t perform physically, but also in roles that are imperative to life in space.
It was also refreshing, if not totally unexpected, to see the unabashed joy these astronauts have to be doing what they do. Be it the “stupid astronaut tricks” that Commander Steve Lindsey spoke of and the crew needed little prompting to perform, or Colonel Cady Coleman’s comment that the thing that she most likes to look for on Earth is the absence of political boundaries, it is clear the astronauts are aware of the greatness of their opportunity. It is also loud and clear (or 5x5 in Communications parlance) that they come to space to have fun, to do important science, to inspire, and to be inspired.
Joe Charbonnet adjusts his headset in preparation
for the downlink event. Image Credit: Emmett Given/NASA
With Two Seconds to Spare
Posted on Mar 04, 2011 04:19:37 PM | hrsmith
The education downlink with the STS-133 and International Space Station crew went off this morning without a hitch. Voice checks were good. We started on time. We made it through all 20 questions with just enough time to say a sincere and heartfelt thanks to the crews for talking to us when our time drew to a close.
The astronauts gave great answers to questions about robotics, the legacy of the space shuttle, what it’s like in microgravity and how they tackle problems in space. We’ve got it all on video, and we will be sharing their responses and those videos here on the blog. For now, a few pictures from the event and the promise of more to come.