Apr 28

STS-132 Tweetup

by in Life of Arlo, Postcard Valet, Travel

Arlo setting up camera at STS-131, Photo by Joseph Sears

When I first went to Machu Picchu, I tried to absorb as much of it as I could.  I figured it was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Same thing with the Galapagos; while I was there, I slept as little as possible so that I wouldn’t miss a thing.  Funny thing is, I actually went back to the Galapagos a second time and (I still can’t get over this!) I’ve been to Machu Picchu three times now.

So when I planned to attend the Space Shuttle Discovery launch last month, even though they’re retiring the Shuttle program, and even though arranging a viewing six miles away is still crazy expensive, and even though I live almost 3,300 miles away in Alaska, I guess I really shouldn’t have counted on it being another once-in-a-lifetime thing.  Because you never know.

When I got back to Juneau after the STS-131 launch, my friend, Joe, ReTweeted a message from NASA on Twitter:

Chance to see launch! RT @NASA: registration for STS-132 launch will open Apr 19-20. You don’t have to be 1st! http://www.nasa.gov/tweetup

I followed the link, read that registration for a NASA-sponsored “tweetup” would open at 6am Alaska time the following Monday, and set an appointment for it in my calendar.  When that morning rolled around, I filled out the sparse information they asked for and promptly forgot about the whole thing.

What was the harm?  I figured tons of people would be signing up, and if by some miracle I was selected, I’d figure it all out later.  Well, guess what.  A few days later I got the email; I’m in!

So what exactly is a tweetup?  Basically it’s just a gathering of people who have one particular thing in common: they use Twitter.  In this case, NASA has selected about 150 twitterers (out of more than a thousand applicants) and they’ll be hosting us at the Kennedy Space Center for two days, May 13th and 14th.  They have events and tours planned for the first day and we get to view the launch from the press area on the second.  In the meantime, we’ll have an air-conditioned tent with wi-fi, tables, and power supplies set up just in case we get the urge to share our experience online.

NASA isn’t actually covering any of our expenses.  I’ll have to figure out a way to pay for a plane ticket down to Florida, a hotel room, and a rental car.  We even have to buy or bring our own food for the two days spent at the Space Center.  Not that I’m complaining!  Getting to view the launch from three miles away, as opposed to being six miles away on the Causeway, is more than fair compensation!

NASA isn’t even allowing us to bring a guest, so I was a little worried when I showed the invitation to Oksana.  Half way through reading it, she squealed and said, “You have to do this!  What an opportunity!”  I have the best wife.

The next step was clearing it with work.  I’d just gotten back from a two-week vacation and, furthermore, was about to turn in a letter of resignation because of our upcoming world travels.  It would have been reasonable to expect that my supervisor wouldn’t approve more time off, but I think he saw my excitement and decided to let me go.  I’m going to miss this job.

The biggest hurdle remaining is to figure out how I can get a plane ticket that’s not too terribly expensive, but can also be changed if there’s a launch delay.  Normally Oksana and I have plenty of airline miles saved up, but I blew them all on the last launch when they pushed the STS-131 launch back by three weeks.  (Originally that trip cost me only 32,500 miles, but changing the ticket cost another 27,500 and $150 in change-ticket fees.)

At any rate, I’m very excited and will do my best to turn this wonderful opportunity into a Postcard Valet podcast episode in late May or early June.  If you’re interested in following my updates as they happen, they’ll certainly be posted to my @rlomidgett account on Twitter, on my blog, and maybe even on Youtube and Facebook, too.

The only thing I haven’t been able to decide is if I should concentrate my attention during the launch on getting spectacular photos or spectacular video.  Opinions?

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