It's been quite a long time since I had a chance to see a shuttle launch in person, despite numerous attempts otherwise. The normal routine is to jump in the car last minute, drive 16 hours across 5 states, usually in the middle of the night, with 3 two-minute stops only for gas. It's hard to explain the logic behind this sleep and food deprived ritual and usually takes quite a bit of convincing in order to get others to join me. But here's why I do it: "a shuttle launch is just better in person."
In today's age of HD video, livecasting, and everything in between, it's hard to imagine that you wouldn't be able to capture all the glory of a launch in bits and bytes. The fact of the matter is, you can't. Even as good as the Discovery Channel is, their footage just doesn't compare. Seeing a shuttle launch in person is truly an awe-inspiring experiences, one that will change your perspective. It's something you'll never forget. It's something you just have to experience for yourself, in person.
What made today that much sweeter for me was to experience this launch with 100 of the most excited space fans I have ever met. NASA hosted it's first ever "tweetup," bringing together people from around the world and giving them behind the scenes access to NASA. Q/A sessions with astronauts and engineers, tours of Kennedy Space Center, and most importantly, an opportunity to watch the launch in person, from the same place that press watches from. I had a unique advantage today to just sit back and observe the passion of those who were allowed an opportunity to participate in NASA's mission, some for the first time ever. It's hard to capture their excitement for our space program, but I think a photo by Justin W. Moore (@bikegeek) sums it up better than anything I could write. It's a great reminder of why NASA does what it does.
The benefit of NASA's use of social media tools and technologies is that launch events like today's can be archived online. Anyone can follow the (and participate in) the #nasatweetup conversation. You can watch webcasts of the events, browse thousands of pictures on flickr, and share in the excitement. But, with only 5 more shuttle launches left, we're quickly closing this chapter in America's human space-flight ambitions. If you haven't had a chance to experience one in person, I'd do anything possible to see one - even if it means driving 16 hours across 5 states, or flying in from New Zealand, or using your last vacation day even if your boss doesn't quite understand. That fact is, it's just better in person.
Cross posted from openNASA.com