Wednesday, January 30, 2013

NASA Social at Dryden – NASA’s Airborne Science Program

On January 25, 2013 some 50 spacetweeps gathered at NASA Dryden in California's Mojave Desert, looking forward to a day of Science Adventures as guests invited with social media accreditation. The hash tag for the event is #NASA_Airborne and this is the badge:

Spacetweeps setting up in the conference room 

We were about to learn a lot about NASA’s Airborne Science Program comprising almost 30 suborbital Earth Science instruments and 10 active missions campaigns. Many of the aircraft are stationed at Dryden and as such provide a fully functional and staffed “motor pool” for the science community.

NASA's Airborne Science Aircraft

Highlights from the day’s program:

Global Hawk

The Global Hawk is an autonomous, high-altitude science aircraft. It has 32 hours of endurance, a range of 11,000 miles and a maximum altitude of 65,000 feet. The plane can carry large payloads while monitoring and measuring remote locations on Earth that are not easily accessible by satellite and by piloted or remotely operated aircraft.  (So, yes, you could argue that it’s pretty much a sophisticated robotic spy plane that *will* find you on the Earth’s surface if it’s really looking for you.) At NASA Dryden, however, the Global Hawk is used for airborne science missions. The 44-foot-long aircraft is powered by a single Rolls Royce engine and has an impressive wingspan of 116 feet.

 Wing perspective

Photo credit: NASA Dryden
Group photo in front of Global Hawk

Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar (UAVSAR)

This reconfigurable radar system provides important data for studying earthquakes, surface movements and other dynamically changing Earth events, such as oil spills, landslides and glacier movements. The instrument is designed to be operated on an uninhabited aerial vehicle (UAV) but is currently being demonstrated on a piloted NASA C-20A aircraft. UAVSAR operates at 40,000 feet and will be conducting earthquake fault monitoring flights over Baja California in upcoming weeks.

UVASAR instrument

Inside the C-20A

 Spacetweeps at the C-20A

Surface, Water, Ocean, Topography (AirSWOT)

AirSWOT is an airborne instrument suite that will make the first-ever global survey of Earth’s surface water, including phenomenology, ocean and hydrology studies. The collected data can be used to produce topographic maps of water surfaces and flood plains at centimeter-level accuracy. AirSWOT will be hosted in a King Air B200 aircraft platform.

AirSWOT mission

King Air B200

Reflective King Air photography

Additional information about NASA’s Airborne Science Instruments and Missions is available here:

Stratospheric Instrument for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA)

SOFIA is the largest airborne observatory in the world.  It studies the universe at infrared wavelengths, capable of making observations that are impossible for even the largest and highest ground-based telescopes. The SOFIA observatory is mounted inside a modified Boeing 747. I have always wanted to see SOFIA and I was not disappointed. SOFIA looked majestic, even in the hangar, gleaming, looking brand-new in the muted light, proudly displaying NASA’s collaboration with the German Aerospace Center (DLR). 

Another famous modified 747 is also at Dryden – One of the two space shuttle carrier aircraft (SCA) used to ferry NASA’s orbiters around the country.  The SCA had been in service for a long time, required major overhauls and has been permanently retired to Dryden as a source of spare parts for SOFIA.

More about the science behind SOFIA:

Thank you, NASA Dryden staff for a wonderful day immersed in Science!

So what do you really do at a NASA Social?


Here is a collection of all my tweets and tweeted pictures from #NASA_Airborne in one place:

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

~ Four Years of NASA Tweetups & Socials ~

As I get ready for my first NASA Social as a participant selected for social media accreditation at NASA Dryden on January 25, it's the perfect time to look back on the history of these unparalleled NASA-sponsored outreach events.

The first gathering of some of @NASA’s twitter followers took place almost four years ago on January 21, 2009 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena , CA. It was the brain child of Veronica McGregor (@VeronicaMcG) and her colleagues at JPL, who saw an opportunity to foster more direct engagement with twitter users around the world. The gathering was initially called a NASA Tweetup.  150 of NASA’s twitter followers were invited to spend an evening touring JPL facilities, interacting with scientists, learning about space exploration and getting rare behind-the-scenes access to NASA projects. A huge success, the first Tweetup was soon followed by others, including the last seven space shuttle launches from Kennedy Space Center.  Participants at those Tweetups witnessed a shuttle launch from three miles away – as close as anyone can safely get to a launch.

NASA Tweetups changed to NASA Socials in 2012. While I will always have a special affinity for the #NASAtweetup hash tag, I do admit that #NASASocial is more efficient. This is twitter after all - every character counts! It is also more accessible to those unfamiliar with these NASA gatherings. If you are reading this, you have probably tried to explain a “NASA Tweetup” to someone who has never been on twitter and has only a vague idea of what NASA actually does. It’s a challenge, requiring explanation of what a tweet is, how social media connect people with similar interests, how online communities lead to real world connections, and related matters. That’s before you even get to NASA’s role in it. Now try doing it in German, like I did for an interview with a German newspaper in 2011:

So NASA Tweetups have happily evolved into NASA Socials, and the momentum shows no signs of slowing down. I wonder what the next four years will bring?

I joined twitter in 2008, mostly as a way to connect with other ferret lovers. Now, a little over four years and almost 12,000 tweets later, I continue to use twitter and other social media primarily to stay in touch with and exchange space-related info and news with other #spacetweeps. This hash tag has been adopted by those of us on twitter – many, if not most of us alumni of NASA Tweetups and NASA Socials – who are hopelessly in love with space and all the potential that robotic and manned human spaceflight holds for our future.

I discovered NASA Tweetups in the summer of 2010 – on twitter, of course. I have been following @NASA since I started tweeting and noticed the NASA Tweetup announcement for the last launch of Space Shuttle Discovery STS-133, planned for early November 2010. I was amazed at the opportunity being offered: A chance to see a shuttle launch from three miles away and all I needed was a twitter account that followed NASA. I had that! I applied to the Tweetup, still somewhat incredulous at this marvelous opportunity. I told one other person, my friend Tallulah (@tallulah_kidd), who also applied. NASA received 3,000 applications for the STS-133 Tweetup, and selected 50 to attend. Tallulah was chosen, I was not.  There is much speculation among spacetweeps  how NASA selects tweetup/social attendees. There is a general agreement that the selection process is largely random.

I was thrilled that Tallulah got to go, even more so when I discovered that I could be part of the Tweetup activities – at NASA and after hours – by watching the live streams set up by Tweetup attendees, including Joel Glick’s (@joelglick) now infamous “hat cam” he wore inside Kennedy Space Center.  During one such live stream, I heard @craftlass perform her now famous song “Bake Sale for NASA”. If you have never listened to her passionate music advocating human space exploration, you can do so here:

Hearing @craftlass’s music, seeing Tallulah in the midst of dozens of people - most of whom had been strangers to each other the day before - celebrating together, getting excited about space, science and seeing a shuttle launch, all of that was transformational for me. It gave me an unprecedented outlet for my lifelong passion for space and the establishment of permanent human outposts off our planet. This blog is one of the results.

Now, a little over two years later, my spacetweep network numbers are in the hundreds and I have met dozens of them in person. There is something about us space geeks that lets us get together as total strangers and leave a short time later with lasting friendships. Maybe it’s the revenge of the geeks. Many of us remember childhoods when geekiness wasn’t exactly cool or popular ~ And just look at all the adventures we are having now!

I attended my first NASA Tweetup in June 2011 at Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The highlight of the day was seeing Mars rover Curiosity from about 15 feet away: The visitor’s gallery in JPL’s clean room, where Curiosity was being prepared for shipment to Kennedy Space Center and her launch later that year.  A particular treat was signing a guest book so that the signatures could be digitized and stored on Curiosity.  Read more about my JPL Tweetup adventure here:

I did not get selected to attend the NASA Tweetup for the last space shuttle launch (Atlantis STS-135, July 2011) but joined the Space Park View Tweetup in Titusville, FL and traveled to Florida anyway.  There, I shared a house with other spacetweeps and was rewarded with an unforgettable launch experience. Read more about it here:

Since then, I have been waitlisted, but not accepted, four times in a row for NASA launch Tweetups and Socials, starting with Curiosity's launch in November 2011 to the TDRS-K tracking satellite launch later this month. I was starting to think someone at NASA got a kick out of teasing me.

Then something  awesome happened, like it often does when NASA is involved: I was selected to receive social media accreditation for the next NASA Social at Dryden, Airborne Earth Sciences (#NASA_Airborne) on January 25, 2013.  This is a different type of NASA Social, where selection is not random and participants are chosen based on their social media posting history.  According to NASA:

What are NASA Social media credentials?
Social media credentials give users a chance to apply for the same access as journalists in an effort to align the access and experience of social media representatives with those of traditional media. People, who actively collect, report, analyze and disseminate news on social networking platforms are encouraged to apply for media credentials. Selection is not random. All social media accreditation applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Those chosen must prove through the registration process they meet specific engagement criteria.

Do I need to have a social media account to register?
Yes. This event is designed for people who:

  • Actively use multiple social networking platforms and tools to disseminate information to a unique audience.
  • Regularly produce new content that features multimedia elements.
  • Have the potential to reach a large number of people using digital platforms.
  • Reach a unique audience, separate and distinctive from traditional news media.
  • Must have an established history of posting content on social media platforms.
  • Have previous postings that are highly visible, respected and widely recognized.

I am honored that I was chosen as a social media representative for the Airborne Earth Sciences Social at NASA Dryden. I promise to bring exciting and up-to-the-minute coverage to my readers and followers!

There is a wiki page with details about all past and upcoming NASA Tweetups and Socials. Please note that participant lists may not be complete:
You can also join the wiki community here: