Monday, May 09, 2011

It's hard to write about the NASA Tweetup I attended nearly two weeks ago. Somewhat surprisingly so.

"I've decided: you should stay," my husband said over the phone as I was waiting for the motorcade of the president of the United States to pass us by.  The arguments spilled out of the phone, despite the fact that I'd made the decision to come back home and not play the NASA waiting game.  They'd first told us it would be a 48-hour wait for a launch attempt after that worst right turn of the astronaut van, then it became 72 hours to the next attempt, and by then I could see the writing on the orbiter...although it didn't come until after I seriously risked my relationship with my employer by trying to change out a workday I'd already committed myself to a few weeks before.

I stood firm, though I knew that Dan still had in his head the idea I'd had to let go of in a hurry: that this was now a very rare event I would possibly be missing.  "Look," I explained. "I've met a lot of great people here.  I've had a great time despite this.  It's okay."  I was about 60% convinced at that point that I'd made the right call.  I wavered a tad when the fellow next to me overheard my end of the conversation and gave me a killer stare through his aviator sunglasses. "You have got to be kidding me," he said.  I then looked at his credentials on the lanyard 'round his neck and realized: Oh, dear, I'd wandered among those for whom viewing the launch was work, not play - it was a disgruntled journalist I was standing next to at that moment.  The scrubbed launch had made his job difficult, but he was missing the story that had been in his midst for the past day or so.

It's not easy for 150 people to drop everything and head to Florida for a few days, which is an amazing thing in itself - but when you throw in a couple of celebrity attendees, a few foreign nationals, a bunch of great speakers that included spacesuit developers, NASA's chief science officer, the flow director for Endeavour's last flight, an astronaut or two or threea LEGO designer (there's a good reason why: check this post at Spuds In Space for more) and people enthusiastic about space travel and research from all over the country, you get a whole lot of fun.  You get the people like Barbara Nixon, who hails from Florida and had the car with the Swiss Army trunk that was ready for any emergency except, of course, for fixing what ailed Endeavour on launch day - one look at her license plate told me what she was at NASA for.  Or Karen Lopez, aka, @datachick, who brought along a bunch of Barbies that even Seth Green was interested in.  Or Dr Lucy Rogers, who came up with the best response for why she, a Brit, wasn't at the royal wedding: "I got a better invite."  Or fantastically generous and humble Rachel Maddow Show producer Tricia McKinney, who lent me the use of her iPhone when my Droid's battery died.  Or horrifically jet-lagged Sydneyite Tim Bennett, who lent me the use of a USB cord.  Or Lisa Bain, who's gonna do her best to schlep all the way back from Idaho to watch the launch, if she can...

...which brings me to the reasons why this post is so tough to write.  I caught launch fever and it brought out the worst in me when I tried to remain in Florida a couple more days in order to stay on NASA String-Along Time (aka, NSAT), and I regret that.  At the same time, I kinda agree with fellow tweetup New Orleanian-in-attendance Chris Smith - the experience feels unfinished, somehow, without seeing a launch, although the last thing anybody wants to see is a repeat of Challenger.

The official launch date for STS-134 is to be announced today at 2 PM CST.  At least one mission astronaut says that NSAT will correspond. We'll see.

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