NASA STS-129 Shuttle Launch TweetUp: The Invitation
The Boy Scientist
Today I would have been labeled a “tween”, but back in the 1960s I was simply a boy addicted to science and science fiction. Chemistry, electronics, NASA, television, movies — I consumed it all. I took things apart to learn how they worked; not always able to put them back together in working order again. I was the kid on the block with the best chemistry set, the largest collection of sci-fi paperbacks, builder of model spaceships, and watched absolutely every televised movie and show remotely related to science fiction.
It should not come as a surprise I also grew up mesmerized by the Apollo space program. I was glued to my TV when the moon landing occurred. I had my Apollo 11 model apart, representing the various states of the rocket as it headed to the moon. I saved every newspaper and magazine clipping. I would to write to NASA, and they would send me booklets, posters, and glossy photos.
I still have all the clippings and the NASA literature.
I was told at an early age that I would never qualify to be an astronaut because of my poor eyesight and childhood allergies, plus military pilots were the people going into space not the scientists. That didn’t deter my love of the idea of space travel; I continued to follow the space program from afar.
Eventually medical advances in optical surgery would eliminate the eyesight restriction, and the shuttle program advances would permit non-military passengers, but by this time computer programming had taken over as my career.
NASA and Social Media
NASA began exploring the opportunities of social networking technology. Their first use of Twitter was the Mars lander, which would tweet occasional status messages (like this one and this one). I would later learn that the joke within NASA was that they always explore new frontiers (such as social media) using unmanned space craft first.
@Astro_Mike (Mike Massimino) became the first Astronaut to use Twitter from space. Since then, several astronauts now have accounts and it’s not unusual to have conversations with them — 140 characters at a time.
Tweetups, a gathering of Twitter users, became popular in 2009. Many conventions know that bloggers and instant messaging are going to be a part of their audience and set up displays of Twitter feeds and special tags/hashtags to tie all the generated content together.
NASA decided to hold one; a very special one.
On October 13th, NASA posted the following press release:
Oct. 13, 2009
NASA Launches Tweetup for Space Shuttle Atlantis Liftoff in Florida
WASHINGTON — For the first time, NASA Twitter followers are invited to view a space shuttle launch in person at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA is hosting this unique Tweetup on Nov. 11 and 12. Space shuttle Atlantis is targeted to launch at 4:04 p.m. EST, Nov. 12 on its STS-129 mission to the International Space Station.
“This will be NASA’s fifth Tweetup for our Twitter community,” said Michael Cabbage, director of the News Services division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Each event has provided our followers with inside access to NASA personnel, including astronauts. The goal of this particular Tweetup is to share the excitement of a shuttle launch with a new audience.”
NASA will accommodate the first 100 people who sign up on the Web. An additional 50 registrants will be added to a waitlist. Registration opens at noon EDT on Friday, Oct. 16. To sign up and for more information about the Tweetup, visit:
The two-day event will provide NASA Twitter followers with the opportunity to take a tour of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, view the space shuttle launch and speak with shuttle technicians, engineers, astronauts and managers. The Tweetup will include a “meet and greet” session to allow participants to mingle with fellow Tweeps and the staff behind the tweets on @NASA.
To follow NASA programs on Twitter visit:
For more information about space shuttle Atlantis’ STS-129 mission, visit:
- end -
They also posted a tweet about it. I actually missed seeing this, but a friend (thanks @JenVargas) was looking out for me and told me about it. The story also appeared in our local news. I live in Orlando, so being able to drive to NASA made this pretty easy to attend, but I would have traveled across country for it.
On 10/16, about 10 minutes before noon, I was camped on that web page. Like trying to win an ebay auction in its last minutes, I kept refreshing the page waiting for the time when the login form appeared. About 4 minutes before noon, it did. I immediately registered myself and my wife. Using the site before noon made me nervous, so just in case I also waited until a few seconds past noon and (using a different browser) I registered us again. Since both times I received confirmation screens that I was all set, and any attempts to register again displayed an “already registered” screen, I was sure I was in. In less than 15 minutes the web page displayed that the signups were completed.
But then, about 20 minutes past noon, NASA tweeted that they were opening up the site again. I figured that they either were disqualifying the people that signed up early and wanted to fill those slots, or they wanted additional names in case some of the first 100 did not work out. Shuttle launches do not always occur on time, and people may cancel. After another 10-20 minutes NASA closed the site for good.
We all waited days until the confirmation emails were sent to the lucky 100 people. The Twitter chatter about the event increased, and NASA announced on 10/25 that all the notifications had been sent.
I hadn’t received one.
Twitter does not let you privately send a message to another person unless they are following you, so I posted a tweet to them asking how was it possible I didn’t get in? After all I was registered within seconds of the site being up, plus they re-opened it later, indicating the previously registered people MUST have made it in and they wanted more. I wondered whether the early site accessibility lead to a registration problem affecting the early users. They responded with a direct message back, saying just that the “response really was overwhelming” and instructed me to email them with my details so they could ensure I was on the waiting list. I sent the email, and asked them to note that my wife and I would like to attend together if possible. They were extremely nice about it.
In the meantime people were tweeting about how excited they were as the date approached. I can’t tell you how sad I was to miss out on this. I knew more than most how special it was. It may not have seemed fair, but life is filled with surprises, and I was very happy that some of my friends made it in.
Then NASA announced the launch date was moving to 11/15 & 16. On 11/3, Stephanie Schierholz from @NASA sent us an exciting email:
Dear Keith Barrett,
Congratulations! A spot has become available for you to attend the NASA Tweetup in conjunction with the launch of space shuttle Atlantis on the STS-129 mission. The launch date has changed and is now targeted for no earlier than Monday, Nov. 16 at 2:28 p.m. EST. As a result, NASA has moved the Tweetup to Nov. 15 and 16. To claim your spot, you need to:
1. Respond to this e-mail [redacted] by 11:59 p.m. EST Wednesday, Nov. 4 to confirm your intent to participate in the two-day event at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Registration indicates:
a. You intend to travel to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and attend the two-day event in person. You are responsible for your own expenses for travel, lodging, local transportation, food and other amenities. There is no public transportation to and from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, so you will need a rental car or another ride. Once you are on-site each day, NASA will provide transportation;
b. You plan to attend activities during both days. The dates have changed to Nov. 15-16. Check-in is required Nov. 15 to receive your badge, which will provide your access to Kennedy Space Center both days. If you do not check in Nov. 15, you will not be able to claim your badge Nov. 16. We will be traveling as a group in buses, so you will need to attend all planned activities if you want to participate.
c. You acknowledge that you are visiting a government facility. To be admitted, you will need to show a government-issued identification (driver’s license or passport) that matches the name provided on the registration. Those without proper identification cannot be admitted.
d. You acknowledge that you are at least 18 years old.
2. Verify your registration information. We have you registered as:
First Name: Keith
Last Name: Barrett
E-mail address: [redacted]
Twitter account: keithbarrett
We need two additional pieces of information from you: your zip code and your phone number, preferably the number where we can reach you during the Tweetup (probably your cell number). Please respond to us with this information. If any of this information is inaccurate, please let us know immediately. The information provided here must match the name on your government-issued identification.
3. Please let us know ASAP if you are not a U.S. citizen.4. Please let us know if you have any special needs or requirements that will require NASA accommodation.
Please note: Your STS-129 Tweetup confirmation and registration does not qualify you for news media credentials at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center now or in the future.
NASA not only sent this to me, but my wife received one as well. NASA had invited us both! There was a lot of excitement in our house that day!
On Nov 11th, NASA sent us the final agenda for the event:
Dear Keith Barrett,
You are confirmed to attend the NASA Tweetup in conjunction with the launch of space shuttle Atlantis on the STS-129 mission. The NASA Tweetup is Nov. 15 and 16. The launch is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 16, at 2:28 p.m. EST. You’ll find details about the event below. Please read the information carefully. We look forward to seeing you on the 15th!
Your Registration Information:
We have you registered as:
First Name: Keith
Last Name: Barrett
E-mail address: [redacted]
Twitter account: keithbarrett
If any of this information is missing or inaccurate, or you need to cancel your attendance for any reason, please e-mail us as soon as possible [...]
The Tweetup will take place at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex. You are responsible for your own transportation to and from these locations. You will need to check in and pick up your badge at the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex before the program begins on Sunday, Nov. 15 promptly at 8 a.m. EST.
Directions to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex for the Tweetup:
You should plan on using a car to get around the area. There is no local public transportation. Once you are on-site each day at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, NASA will provide transportation via bus. Using MapQuest or MSNMaps, use the city “Orsino,” and the state “FL.” Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is located just to the west on 405, between Range Road and East Avenue SW.
From Brevard County beaches (from the south):
Take State Road A1A North until it becomes SR 528 West. Travel west on SR 528 to the SR 3/Courtenay Parkway exit (Exit 49) to Merritt Island and Kennedy Space Center. Turn right (or north) on SR 3 and continue north. Follow signs for the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
From Orlando and Brevard County mainland (from the north):
Travel east on SR 528 to the SR 407 exit to Kennedy Space Center and Titusville. Take SR 407 until it dead ends into SR 405. Turn right (east) onto SR 405 and follow the signs for Kennedy Space Center. You will travel approximately nine miles on SR 405. Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is located on your right.
Upon arrival at the Visitor Complex:
Park your car in LOT 5 and walk toward the ticket pavilion. Look for STS-129 Tweetup registration tables to the left of the ticket pavilion, near a gate with a sidewalk leading to the Debus Conference Center, where the Tweetup will take place. Present your government-issued picture identification or a passport to receive your STS-129 Tweetup credential and registration packet. A guide will direct you to the conference center. You do not need to purchase an admission ticket for the Visitor Complex.
Badge check-in will begin at 7 a.m. on Nov. 15. You must check in on Nov. 15 before 8 a.m. to receive your badge and participate in events both days. Those without proper identification cannot be admitted. All registrants must be at least 18 years old. NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is a government facility. You must keep the badge and photo identification with you at all times during the Tweetup. If you do not claim your badge and participate in activities Nov. 15, you will not be able to attend launch events on Nov. 16. You will need to bring your badge with you Nov. 16 to check in for transportation to the launch viewing area.
Sunday, Nov. 15/L-1: Day 1
8 a.m. — Program begins with welcome by John Yembrick (@NASA), NASA public affairs officer
8:10 a.m. — Jon Cowart, Ares I-X deputy mission manager
8:40 a.m. — Wayne Hale, strategic program planning manager
9 a.m. — Mike Massimino (@Astro_Mike), astronaut, STS-109 & 125
9:30 a.m. — Veronica McGregor (@veronicamcg), public affairs, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
9:40 a.m. — Miles O’Brien (@milesobrien), veteran space reporter, former CNN anchor
10 a.m.-12:15 p.m. — Free time at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (Shuttle Launch Experience, gift shop, lunch on your own, etc.)
12:30 p.m. — Buses depart for tour of Kennedy Space Center. For the tour, you must wear long pants and closed, low-heeled shoes. Tank tops are not permitted.
~3:30 p.m. — Return to Visitor Center parking lot
Nov. 16/Launch: Day 2
8:30 a.m. — Meet at KARS Park 1, located on the south portion of Kennedy Space Center on East Hall Road, off State Road 3, to clear security and board buses
9:30 a.m. — Depart KARS Park enroute to the Launch Complex 39 press site at Kennedy Space Center via buses. No personal vehicles will be allowed onto Kennedy Space Center on launch day.
10 a.m. — Arrive at Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 Press Site
2:28 p.m. — Launch of STS-129
3:30 p.m. — Post-launch news conference on NASA TV (you’ll be able to watch/listen to some of this from the tent before boarding the buses)
~4 p.m. — Board buses (the schedule could change in the event of a contingency)
~4:15 p.m. — Buses depart Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 Press Site to return attendees to KARS Park
Buses will adhere to strict schedules. If you are not on a bus at the specified departure time, unfortunately you will be left behind. We will not be able to accommodate late arrivals.
(In the event of a 24-hour delay, we will repeat the launch day schedule, but all times will be 30 minutes earlier)
NASA Tweetup and Technology:
We will have free Wi-Fi available both days if you choose to bring your laptop. The SSID and WEP Encryption Key for the STS-129 Tweetup are: [redacted]
Tweetup attendees should charge their electronic devices before each day’s events. Power will be available only during portions of the event Nov 15 but will be available throughout the launch Nov. 16. You may need to allow your mobile phone to roam to achieve the best cell phone coverage.
Cameras will be allowed. NASA will use UStream to broadcast the 8-10 a.m. portion of the Nov. 15 Tweetup at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/nasa-television. Portions of the Tweetup may be broadcast on NASA Television and online at http://www.nasa.gov/ntv. Photos will be posted online during and/or after the event at http://www.flickr.com/photos/nasahqphoto. Your participation in the event signals your consent to appear on air and online.
The Twitter account for the Tweetup is @nasatweetup. We are following all those who are confirmed to attend. You can view the list of attendees at http://twitter.com/nasatweetup/ksc-sts-129-tweetup. Please begin following @nasatweetup, where we will post updates and reminders about the event. Feel free to send questions you may have to that Twitter account. We will use #nasatweetup as the hashtag.
You are responsible for your own meals. You are welcome to bring your own breakfast, lunch, snacks and non-alcoholic drinks. We encourage you to bring and plan to drink plenty of water. If you plan to eat breakfast or need a mid-morning snack, please get it before you arrive at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and NASA’s KARS Park.
On Nov. 15, the day before launch, you will be able to purchase lunch at restaurants inside the Visitor Complex following the morning presentations or retrieve a lunch you brought from your car and eat it outside the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
Food options at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex:
Orbit Café (Visitor Complex) – cafeteria with indoor seating
G-Force Grill – snacks and sandwiches
Milky Way – soft drinks and soft-serve ice cream
Space Dots – ice cream
On Nov. 16, launch day, you can bring food with you onto the buses and to the press site. Commercial food options are extremely limited. At the press site you will have access to a mobile food wagon with snacks, water, soft drinks and sandwiches available for purchase. If you are looking for breakfast on the way to NASA’s KARS Park, you will find numerous restaurants and bakeries conveniently situated on Merritt Island along SR 3, both north and south of SR 528. Please allow enough time to arrive at KARS Park by 8:30 a.m.
About Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39 Press Site
The STS-129 Tweetup will be conducted in an air-conditioned tent at the Launch Complex 39 Press Site, where news media from around the world are working. You may be approached by reporters requesting to interview or photograph you. If you don’t wish to participate, simply decline their requests.
You may leave the tent and roam around the press site, but you are not permitted to leave the press site without an official public affairs escort. You also are not permitted to enter the press site auditorium, where news conferences are conducted (the large yellow building with metal siding) or any private news media facilities (the trailers and buildings you see on the hill toward the front of the tent). You may enter the NASA News Center (the concrete building with the wedge-shaped roof, also on the hill), but we ask that you keep your visit short in order to respect the needs of the reporters who will be hard at work there.
Restrooms are located in a concrete building on the hill, behind the press site auditorium.
If you fail to follow the rules and heed the instructions of NASA security and your public affairs escorts, you could lose your credential and your privileges to attend the launch.
What your STS-129 Tweetup credential gets you
Your badge will provide admission to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, including the Shuttle Launch Experience attraction, and to a NASA bus for a tour of the Kennedy Space Center, including a stop near the launch pad, on Nov. 15. We recommend that you take advantage of your special access to the Shuttle Launch Experience during your time in the park that day. We also suggest you go there first, then get lunch and shop for souvenirs. Your credential does not provide access to any other premium attractions, and you likely will not have time to visit them.
Your badge will provide admission to the Launch Complex 39 Press Site on launch day. You must show your credential to park at NASA’s KARS Park and board the bus on launch day. DO NOT LOSE YOUR CREDENTIAL. You must have your Tweetup badge and government-issued photo identification with you at all times.
Please note: Your STS-129 Tweetup confirmation and registration does not qualify you for news media credentials at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, now or in the future.
For the L-1 bus tour of Kennedy Space Center on Nov. 15, you must wear long pants and closed, low-heeled shoes. Tank tops are not permitted.
Things to bring:
Government-issued photo identification and/or passport (you must have it with you at all times while on Kennedy Space Center property)
Preferred tweeting device(s) and charger(s)
Paper and pen or Sharpie for autographs
Small umbrella or rain poncho
Money for food and souvenirs
Food, snacks, beverages, water (if you desire)
Bags, purses and other items may be opened and thoroughly inspected at the Visitor Complex. (Procedures to search all bags carried into the complex by visitors and employees are actions taken as part of the increase in security and not part of a specific threat to our facilities.) Any item you do bring must have a tag with your name and information on it.
The following items are not permitted:
Large beach-type umbrellas
Hard-sided coolers, luggage and other large bags
Knives of any size
Box cutters or similar items
Nail clippers with knife blades
Any other sharp/pointed items, including pointed scissors or nail files
Fire arms of any type (with or without a permit)
Ammunition (live or spent)
Grills or stoves
In the event of a launch scrub on Nov. 16:
Launching humans into space is a very complex business, and the safety of the crew is NASA’s number one priority. Hundreds of different factors can cause a scheduled launch date to change numerous times. If the launch date moves or delays prior to this planned event, NASA will make every attempt to adjust the Tweetup schedule accordingly to coincide with the launch and will notify you about this change. If on the first launch attempt (L-0, currently Nov. 16), the launch is delayed for 24 hours, NASA will provide you the opportunity to visit the press site again for the second launch attempt. In that event, the launch day schedule will begin 30 minutes earlier. Tweetup attendees are responsible for any additional costs they incur related to any launch delay.
FOLLOW THE LAUNCH: It is your responsibility to keep up with the date and time of the shuttle launch. Follow @NASA on Twitter to receive regular launch updates. You also can receive regular launch updates at http://www.nasa.gov/shuttle. Updates also are available by calling 321-867-2525. We will e-mail you if there is a major change to the agenda, such as a scrub early in the morning during fueling. You can view a schedule of the milestones to launch at: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/launch/countdown101.html
NASA’s Safety Statement:
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is part of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. While on Kennedy Space Center you may encounter a variety of wildlife, including alligators and poisonous snakes. If you see such an animal, do not approach it or attempt to feed it. Please notify a public affairs officer or other NASA personnel.
Please be advised that hazards are inherent in launching and launch viewing of a space shuttle mission. By accepting the invitation to view the launch or landing you do so with the understanding of the potential risk. Although NASA applies stringent range safety principles and techniques to protect the general public, workforce and property for all areas of the Kennedy Space Center during launch, in the event of an inadvertent circumstance, hazards including debris, blast and toxics could occur.
It is imperative that you stay within controlled areas with your group and strictly follow all instructions provided by NASA. Although an accident during lift-off of the space shuttle is highly unlikely, some safety precautions are necessary. As is the case with the launch of a space vehicle, a potential danger exists from toxic vapors contained in any cloud formed as a result of a launch mishap. In the event of an accident, all persons at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center should take shelter immediately in the nearest air-conditioned building.
Approximate distances to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex from nearby lodging areas:
Cape Canaveral – 21 miles
Cocoa – 19 miles
Cocoa Beach – 26 miles
Daytona Beach – 68 miles
Melbourne – 50 miles
Orlando International Airport – 45 miles
Titusville – 19 miles
For more information about the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, visit: http://www.kennedyspacecenter.com.
NASA created a special twitter list of the people attending the event (“lists” are a new Twitter feature introduced in the last month). In 4 days we would be at NASA, participating in something not only exciting, but would prove to be historically significant to social media, and a demonstration of how companies can use it well.
But the real excitement was that I was going to see a shuttle launch at NASA! And my wife Cynthia, who was saying earlier this year that she has always wanted to visit the Kennedy Space Center, was going to have an extraordinary experience.
[In the next segment of this series I will relate the events of the first day of the TweetUp]
[Updated on 11/25 to include a copy of the original NASA press release]