So began the email that prompted this week’s journey that will culminate with my being present in Mission Control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California when Curiosity is scheduled to land on Mars and send its first transmission to Earth.
How did this happen?
One of the few times I happened to be on Google+ this past Spring, I noticed a post from NASA asking people to apply to attend #NASASocial. I had always wanted to go to a #NASATweetup so I thought this would be a great opportunity. I never thought about it again until I received the confirmation email while I was in New York for #140conf, and anyone who was with me when I read the email can tell you how excited I was.
While there will be journalists, scientists, engineers, and other NASA employees present for the landing, I am one of only 25 people selected to attend this historic event and I look at this both as an honor and a privilege to witness what will surely be a historic moment. As I looked at the list of attendees and saw how impressive they were, I wondered how I could possibly be part of this.
And then it dawned on me.
For people of my generation, NASA has been a part of their life from the very beginning. What other government agency brings you both successes and tragedies that you can point to and say, “I remember where I was when X happened”?
From the first moon landing, when I remember being gathered in my grandparents living room with my young cousins around a black and white television screen as we watched grainy video of Neil Armstrong planting an American flag on the moon, to being at my first office job and hearing the news about the Challenger disaster and gathering around another small television set to watch that horrific moment be replayed over and over again, NASA has been part of my life. Everything NASA does is a big deal, so we take time to watch and to notice and to hope and dream along with the astronauts, who are both superhuman and human at the same time. NASA was born of the competitive American spirit, and we still want to be the best and the first, both on Earth and in space.
Seven Minutes of Terror
The MSL Curiosity rover is scheduled to touchdown at exactly 10:31 PM PT on Sunday, August 5. That’s when we’ll find out if all the hard work and incredibly complex engineering calculations have worked…or not. It takes a signal 14 minutes to travel the millions and millions of miles between Earth and Mars and by the time we receive the message that the craft has entered the atmosphere of Mars, it will have been either dead or alive on the surface for 7 minutes. Hard to imagine, but that’s how it works. You may have seen some video of what needs to happen to make sure Curiosity is LIVE when we get that transmission, but it’s definitely worth watching if you havent:
Is that mind-blowing or what?
So what’s next?
Tomorrow begins three days of press conferences, behind-the-scenes tours and lots and lots of sharing with the public of what we’re doing and seeing here. NASA has a truly phenomenal social media presence and is using it to spread their brand message and to educate the public on the importance of its programs. They’ve made space exploration cool again. So much so that Sunday night’s lead up to the landing on Mars will be broadcast live from JPL’s Mission Control on the massive Toshiba screen in Times Square starting at 11:30 PM EST. It will also be livestreamed. (You can find a list here.)
So tune in Sunday night and please follow the #NASASocial hashtag on Twitter for the three days we’ll be there; some amazing stuff you would never get to see or hear otherwise will be coming your way on that stream. Follow me on Instagram as well to see all the great shots I’ll be taking.
I’ll be back here on InfoSpace when I get a chance over the weekend to share my own photos and commentary on what I’ve seen and heard. Any questions you want me to ask? Share in the comments and I’ll try to get an answer for you.
One final thought for today: I want to thank Dean Liz Liddy for funding my trip to #NASASocial. While most people might think that NASA is sending me on an all expenses paid trip to California, that’s not how it works. NASA has had major budget cuts in the past few years and can’t pay for the attendees to travel. Lucky for NASA, there are so many devotees who would spend their last dime to be present for this moment. Lucky for me, I work for a visionary who sees the importance of funding my trip as the iSchool’s representative. I am very grateful.
NOTE: The featured image on this post is the design on our pins, patches, t-shirts, etc. It was designed by #NASASocial attendee Susan Bell.