On Being Invited by NASA to the Final Space Shuttle Launch

In my best Oprah voice, "You get a shuttle launch! And you get a shuttle launch! And you get a shuttle launch!"

I follow NASA on Twitter, and about a month ago they announced an opportunity to view the final space shuttle launch live in Florida as their guest at #NASATweetup. (After 30 years in operation, the Space Shuttle Program is being retired.) A Tweetup is a meetup-style get together where folks who follow like-minded topics on Twitter gather, throw back, and have a good time.

Registration would only be open for a single 24 hour period starting on June 1st. Having been to Tech and other themed Tweetups here in San Diego, I thought it was a cool idea to get a bunch of folks together around this historic event. I marked my calendar. On June 1st I followed the link, filled out the form, and crossed my fingers.

Then I forgot about it...

Cut to early last week, when I received an email notification that I had a new Twitter follower: @NASATweetup. My heart fluttered a little, because I knew one of the first steps in the selection process was getting that follow notice -- on Twitter, that means they can send you a direct message if they want to. (News that I've been selected, perhaps?) They quickly followed that up with a tweet saying that no, it did not in fact indicate anything, and that notifications were coming June 10. Alright, fair enough. Much ado about nothing.

Five days go by, and on Friday I'm sitting in a meeting with my boss. Ever the multi-tasker, I check my email and see this subject header:


Nervous, I open the email to read:

"Congratulations, you have been selected to attend the NASA Tweetup on July 7-8 for space shuttle Atlantis' targeted launch at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida! The event will provide you the opportunity to speak with shuttle technicians, engineers, astronauts, and managers, and to experience the launch of space shuttle Atlantis to the International Space Station."


I'm pretty sure I stopped breathing. My boss looked at me, and said, "What? What is it? Is everything okay?!" I couldn't form sentences. I tried to explain everything I've written about above, but I'm pretty sure all that came out was, "NASA. Space Shuttle. I'm going." For someone who's a writer and speaker for a living, that's pretty pathetic if that's the best I could muster. Alas, that mumbling was pretty much a pre-show for how the rest of the afternoon would go.

So how's it feel to be selected by NASA to attend the final shuttle launch of the space program as we know it? Surreal. That about describes the feeling, as my brain floated around, disconnected from my skull as I attempted to process the news. I took to Twitter to express my excitement.

Photo credit: Kevin Cobb.
Later on, I remembered I'd also be close to one of my favorite places on Earth, so I followed up with an old sports meme often asked after athletes win major sporting events. So yeah, I tacked on an extra day to the trip, and will visit EPCOT, my favorite Disney park. Seems fitting to visit the EPCOT ball, Spaceship Earth, and Mission: SPACE the day after the launch.

Out of over 5,500 people who applied, NASA selected 150 of us. A private Facebook group quickly popped up called "STS-135 NASATweetup" where we began discussing housing, air, and carpooling. Not surprisingly, most every hotel, condo, timeshare, and free bed's already booked up for the final launch, as NASA is expecting upwards of 1 million folks excited to view Atlantis shoot into the sky one last time. Lucky for us, we have alumni from past NASATweetups who are unofficially mentoring us in all this.

Photo credit: Nathan Bergey.

So what does this Willy Wonka-esque golden ticket get me, you ask? From what I can gather, on Thursday we'll be touring Kennedy Space Center and speaking to astronauts, engineers, and the like. Then, on Friday, we'll be 3.1 miles from the launchpad, standing with the press for this once in a lifetime opportunity.

They've already started getting Atlantis ready for launch. Here's a great video showing it traveling from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center.

I'm humbled. I'm excited. I'm in awe. Two days after getting that email, that golden ticket that changes everything, I'm still trying to wrap my head around this event, and what it means.

For those of you who argue Twitter's good for nothing: yeah.   

Related posts:
My TEDx talk on Space Shuttle Atlantis, Cancer, and Life...and the 30% That Binds Them
L-2 Days 'Til Launch: Arrival in Cape Canaveral for #NASATweetup
L-1 Day 'Til Launch: Day 1 #NASATweetup Recap
L-0 Launch Day: Live from Space Shuttle Atlantis Launch for #NASATweetup


Patty said…
I can hardly wait!!!
Kara DeFrias said…
Me either! Amazing to have this opportunity.
Epcot sounds like a great idea. Hope to see you at STS-135.
Kara DeFrias said…
Can't wait to meet you, George!
T. said…
sweet Oprah!
Kara said…
It's pretty wild, T.!
David Burgs said…
That for sure is an experience of a lifetime. To have witnessed an actual launch also, I guess, makes you a part of history.
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