Space shuttle Atlantis send-off includes NASA sponsored 'Tweetup'

November 23, 2009

by Mark Ollig

As the space shuttle Atlantis roared off launch pad 39A last Monday afternoon, 100 Twitter invitees were cheering and busily typing out messages to their followers.

In October, NASA signed up 100 people who tweet (send twitter messages) to come down to Florida for two days to see the launch up close, and to tweet about it over the Internet.

NASA viewed this tweetup event as being a beneficial outreach program to promote interest in the space program.

The 100 NASA Twitter followers in attendance took a tour of the Kennedy Space Center, talked with shuttle astronauts, technicians, and engineers. They also were there to observe and send out tweets before, during, and after the launch of the space shuttle.

The “tweeps” (invitees typing messages to Twitter) were situated at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, FL.

You can also call the tweeps, tweeters, too, but I do not want to be overly confusing to my faithful readers out there.

If you are a veteran user of Twitter, you will understand how easy it is to get lost in all the tweet-jargon-speak.

See, the Twitter icon (or mascot) is this cute small blue bird, so the jargon associated with it seems to be mostly bird-related.

The tweeps were headquartered under a huge NASA-provided tent, located in the press parking lot.

Inside the tent were rows of tables, hanging lights and many cords of electrical power strip outlets.

People inside were using video cameras, cell phones, display monitors, and, of course, sitting at the tables were the tweeps busily punching the keys on their notebook computers.

They were sharing with thousands of others over the Internet everything they were seeing and observing.

The tweeps were tweeting about the emotions they were feeling.

Your humble columnist was one of over 150,000 twitter followers who was being sent –and responding back to – these twitter messages in real-time.

About four hours before the launch, I logged onto my Twitter account and began following the #nasatweetup “hashtag.”

Hashtags (# followed by the subject name), are used on Twitter for following or tracking the topics, communities, live events, or news you have an interest in.

If you are a Twitter user and want to create a unique hashtag, just go to http://tagal.us and you can set them up from there.

I also opened web browser windows to a couple of other Internet media sources.

I could sense by the messages I was reading on Twitter, those participating in this “nasatweetup” were fully energized and excited to be at the Kennedy Space Center, reporting their observations in real-time to the rest of us.

This nasatweetup exhilaration being generated was quickly spreading across the Internet and, as they say, it soon went viral.

I was using a very cool website called Twitterfall, to more easily watch the tweets “drop,” it is located at www.twitterfall.com.

The nasatweetup twitter updates were appearing across my computer screen virtually nonstop at times.

“The Wi-Fi and cellular networks are so bogged down with excited tweets that it is hard to get messages out,” one tweet read.

Another of the 100 sending tweets was “VeronicaMcG,” who reported, “I was amazed how many attendees had connections to k through 12 schools & made the launch/tweetup a teachable event.”

While watching the live NASA-TV broadcast on my iPod and interacting with the users at the Kennedy Space Center on Twitter, I was also in a chat channel on spaceflightnow.com, which was broadcasting live from the Kennedy Space Center.

The popular space enthusiast and reporter Miles O’Brian was hosting this broadcast and was interviewing NASA personal along with reporting on the Twitter folks camped under the large NASA tent.

This sure was a different experience from when I watched those live Apollo Saturn V rocket launches on my parents’ living room television.

This time, it was not just a one-way medium; I was able to communicate with people at the launch site personally, which was simply fantastic.

During this particular space shuttle launch, one could feel the excitement building up; it felt just like it did back in the days of Apollo.

There was much satisfaction in being able to participate in this real-life event with thousands of others simultaneously, albeit in a virtual online world.

This experience reminded me of the predictions made in a book I read almost 25 years ago by Howard Rheingold called “The Virtual Community.”

I feel this was an excellent example of citizen journalism in action and I would have jumped at the chance to be one of those 100 NASA Twitter invitees at the Kennedy Space Center, sitting at a table with my trusty HP laptop and the space shuttle in sight, reporting on the happenings.

You can read the actual tweets sent out during the NASA tweetup at twitter.com/nasatweetup/ksc-sts-129-tweetup.

To read this columnist’s tweets on Twitter, just follow “bitsandbytes” or send me a tweet message at “@bitsandbytes” the next time you are on Twitter.

To sign up for a free Twitter user name go to twitter.com.