Space, the Final Frontier

How amazing is it that we live in a world where we landed a rover on Mars?!
On August 6, 2012 at 12:17 CST Curiosity landed in Gale Crater on Mars!
It’s the size of a car, and it has cameras, and a laser!

I stayed up late that night and watched the live stream of NASA’s flight control at JPL and held my breath with those scientists as we waited to see if she landed safely and sent back footage. I admit, there were a few tears in my eyes as I watched that room full of nerds cheering & attempting to high-five.

It’s just unreal that we can have a picture from the surface of Mars just 15 minutes after it is taken.
Here’s the first picture:

In this image from NASA TV, shot off a video screen, one of the first images from the Curiosity rover is pictured of its wheel after it successfully landed on Mars

And the pictures are getting better as Curiosity fires up all her systems.

This is another freaking planet!

While Curiosity is definitely the star of the show, another member of the team has gotten a bit of attention from the press too. This adorable guy is Bobak Ferdowsi.
Bobak is the Flight Director for the mission. While all us geeks were watching the JPL live stream and talking about it on Twitter one of the people that caught our attention was the “NASA Mohawk Guy.” Seriously. How cool is he? He’s a freaking rocket scientist, and he has a mowhawk! (and he’s pretty darn hot!)

I’ve been following the “NASA Needs More Mohawks” Tumblr because I’ve got a big ol’ geek crush on Bobak.

Bobak, who tweets as @tweetsoutloud, has become an internet meme.
There are also a ton of articles about him out there, like this one from Even President Obama thinks Bobak is pretty cool! I think he’d be an awesome guest for us to bring in to CONvergence.

Alas, not all our space news was awesome this month. Last Saturday we lost one of our national heroes. Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the moon, died at age 82. Mr. Armstrong was the mission commander of Apollo 11. Just as I’m amazed that we can get pictures from Mars, I’m also saddened that we have not returned to the moon since December 1972, when I was only 2 years old. Yes, man has walked on the moon in my lifetime, but barely. There are only 8 living people now who have walked on the surface of our moon.

Rest In Peace, Mr. Armstrong

This is one of the pictures Neil took while on the moon. It is of fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

Check out the rest of the pictures from the Apollo 11 mission here. Do you want to take pictures like an astronaut? You just need to get a Hasselblad camera, and then read this. It’s the official NASA Astronaut’s Photography Manual from Hasselblad.

My Space Shuttle Launch Story – To Be Continued

D’oh! As I was copying my old posts about attending the May 2010 launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis I realized that I had never posted a final blog post about the actual launch itself! Even though it would have been much better to write it while it was still fresh in my mind, late is still better than never. I’ll work on that and post it soon!

My Space Shuttle launch story.

Once upon a time I started a travel blog as I was trying to win a trip to Antarctica. I didn’t win the trip, and the barely updated blog petered out. I never had all the great adventures I was hoping for, but there was one pretty cool one. I went to a space shuttle launch! Because it was such a cool experience I’m going to repost the shuttle posts here. Originally posted Saturday, June 5, 2010: NASA Tweetup, part 2

Now we’re on to the second half of day 1.

After lunch we boarded buses for a tour of KSC.

We stopped & spent about an hour & a half at the Apollo Saturn V Center. It was really cool. They showed a short movie on the history of the Apollo program, and then moved us into the control room. It wasn’t a reproduction either. They had taken the entire control room that was actually used for the launches and reassembled it at the Apollo Saturn V Center. Then, as part of the tour, they went through a simulation of the launch from there, with details right down to rattling the windows.


When you left the theater from that simulation the very first thing you saw was the rocket end of a Saturn V rocket. It’s a real full size one that was built, but then was never used. It is MASSIVE. They have all the parts of it hanging from the ceiling end to end and it goes the entire length of the building. All that rocket power just to get a little capsule that 3 men barely fit into up to the moon.

Saturn V Rocket

And here’s a picture with me in it to give an idea of the scale:

Saturn V Rocket

They had some other cool stuff at the center too. They have a piece of moon rock that you can reach in and actually touch. There is an “Apollo Hall of Treasures” where they have things like the Apollo 14 capsule and Alan Shepherd’s spacesuit that he wore on the moon’s surface.

Moon rock Apollo 14

After the Apollo Saturn V Center we went to the International Space Station Center. This is the building where they assemble and load the modules used to take stuff to the ISS. Not as much stuff to look at as at the Apollo Saturn V Center, but it is an actual working facility. You look down through glass windows at the people working in the clean room environments. While we were there one of the modules they were working on was being reinforced because it’s going to become a permanent part of the ISS.

International Space Station Center International Space Station Center

As we drove to the different stops we also got to see a lot of parts of the base. We drove by the Orbiter Processing Facility, Mobile Launcher Platforms, the Crawler-Transporter, and, of course, the Vehicle Assembly Building. You can’t go anywhere at Kennedy without seeing the VAB!

This is the Crawler-Transporter which moves the shuttle around.

Shuttle Crawler

The gravel to the right of the road is the Crawler’s track.

Crawler Track

And the track leads, of course, to the Vehicle Assembly Building.


One of the buildings we drove past on our tour was the hangar used for the Columbia Reconstruction Project after she was lost on re-entry.


After the tour we took a short break and then boarded the buses again for the highlight of Thursday – the retraction of the Rotating Service Structure!

We were out by Launch Pad 39A just a few hundred yards & one fence away from the shuttle! The RSS is the structure surrounding the shuttle during the time she’s on the pad up until just less than a day from the scheduled launch time. It is how the crews access the shuttle to check systems, load it, etc.

Of course, we couldn’t actually see the shuttle herself yet, just the tops of the big orange external tank and the solid rocket boosters. This was the first place I hauled out The Monster, my 400 mm 2.8 lens. We were TOO CLOSE for me to really use it! I could get some super close-ups, but it was too close to get any kind of good composition. This is a problem I can live with!

RSS retraction

Taken with the big lens:

At Launchpad 39a

OK, so the RSS retraction? Happens slow enough that you really don’t see the structure move. We were taking pictures & talking and then all of a sudden, “Hey! I can see Atlantis!”

At Launchpad 39a At Launchpad 39a At Launchpad 39a

Once the structure was fully retracted we were all getting pictures of ourselves in front of it.

At Launchpad 39a

We got a picture of all 4 of us Minnesotans in front of it too. The girls from Minneapolis: me, Liz (@LizStrand), Melissa (@melissagerman) & Mauria (@MoBea) At Launchpad 39a

Then we did a big group shot of the entire Tweetup group in front of Atlantis.

GroupAtLaunchpad Photo Credit: (NASA/Paul E. Alers) Licensed Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 We were herded back onto the buses after that. Our view of the launchpad from our little area was a side view of the shuttle. As our buses drove off we pulled around her and got a beautiful full on view. These pictures are taken through the bus windows.

At Launchpad 39a At Launchpad 39a

After getting dropped off at the press site, we were done with scheduled events for the day. Melissa, Matthew & I took advantage of that time to get our required “I’m by the countdown clock!” pictures.

Cheesy self portrait.

Cheesy self portrait Countdown clock

After hanging out for a little while longer I was going to meet up with my friends Mark & Sarah for dinner but decided I was just too wiped out. I went back to my resort with the intention of napping, but I learned that the pool & hot tub were open until 11:00. Since the flight my husband Rick & my dad were on was landing at 11:12 I figured it was a sign. A nice relaxing soak in the hot tub felt so good. After running to the airport to get Rick & Dad, it was the end of a wonderful day.

Hot tub (This picture’s not blurry because of the water, it’s because the phone is in a nice watertight plastic bag!)

Next: Launch day!

My Space Shuttle launch story.

Once upon a time I started a travel blog as I was trying to win a trip to Antarctica. I didn’t win the trip, and the barely updated blog petered out. I never had all the great adventures I was hoping for, but there was one pretty cool one. I went to a space shuttle launch! Because it was such a cool experience I’m going to repost the shuttle posts here. Originally posted Saturday, June 5, 2010: NASA Tweetup, part 1

I’ve already posted about how I got to go to the launch through @nasatweetup. Now I’ve finally got time to tell you about the Tweetup itself!

Wednesday To minimize time taken off work, since I don’t get paid time off, I ended up going right from work to the airport on Wednesday, and then on Monday going right from the airport back to work. So, Wednesday night Rick picked me up at work and we headed to uptown to pick up Melissa (@melissagerman), another woman from Minneapolis who was also selected for the Tweetup. Actually, out of only 150 people, 4 of us were girls from Minneapolis! Anyway, I had been tweeting with the other girls and it turned out that Melissa and I were taking the same flight down. She didn’t have a way to the airport yet so I said we’d be able to pick her up. Luckily she turned out to be really nice and we got along well.

The flight down was on Delta, formerly Northworst. Ugh. New name, no improvement. The lack of legroom on their flights can get to be downright painful for my 5’10” self! I’m actually typing this out right now while sitting on another flight, a US Airways one. MUCH more comfortable and more than enough leg room. But I digress. Delta flight. We were supposed to take off at 7pm to get to Orlando at 11pm local time. We loaded up and backed on out of the gate. And sat. We sat just there for a freaking hour without moving! After 45 minutes they announced that it was some indicator light that had come on but that they didn’t need to fix anything, they just had to wait for someone to sign off on paperwork. When we finally took off we ended up landing in Orlando an hour late at midnight local time.

I wasn’t checked into my hotel until after 2am because I had to get my luggage, get my rental car, and run to a different hotel to pick up my tripod rental before getting to mine to check in. I couldn’t even just go to bed because I had to rearrange all my bags from travel packing configuration to hotel + tweetup organization. Put all the clothes in the suitcase & carryon, put computer & cords in one shoulder bag that had been packed empty in the suitcase, and put camera gear in my beloved Tom Bihn bag. I have never in my life traveled with so much camera & computer equipment.

I ended up finally going to bed at 3am with two alarms set to make sure I got up at 6am.

Thursday It’s here! The first day of the tweetup! I had enough adrenaline in me that it didn’t even matter that I’d only had 3 hours sleep. I loaded the SUV and headed over to Melissa’s hotel to pick her up. We were on our way! The drive out to Kennedy was nice. We had enough to chat about the whole time, and I might have possibly maybe seen the eyes & snout of an alligator in the water in the ditch. We did definitely see a cow in a swamp. Yup, one cow, all by itself, standing knee deep in water. We’d recently passed a field with a herd so our theory was that this one cow had gone on walkabout.

Because the route to Kennedy was so well marked, in our excitement we didn’t read the email w/directions close enough. At one point we weren’t supposed to take the highway veering to the left to Kennedy, we were supposed to stay on the one we were already on. But we didn’t. We got to Kennedy and then spent over ½ hour trying to find the press registration area. Turns out that had we followed the directions we would have been approaching the base from the south side rather than the west. We figured it out eventually & got where we needed to be. We got our tweetup & access badges, our swag bags, a vehicle permit, and a map with directions to the press site.

Moose is ready to register

Woo hoo! We went just a little ways up the road and hit a secure gate. After showing our IDs (I’ve finally used my passport!) we got to go through and we were officially in NASA restricted space. And hey, look up there. It’s the Vehicle Assembly Building right in front of us.

Driving towards the VAB

That’s where we’re headed, turning just a couple roads in front of it. FIVE MINUTES LATER, we’re still approaching it, and have finally gotten close. The VAB is one freaking HUGE building. When it looks like you’re maybe ½ mile or a mile from it, you are really still 5 miles away. It’s just so unbelievably big that it throws your sense of perspective off. A quick turn where we’re supposed to go, another checkin at the gate to the press area, and we’re parking.

We were so excited. There were the permanent press buildings on our right – CBS, Floriday Today, some unmarked ones. On our left – the freaking countdown clock! You know what I’m talking about. The one you always see on news coverage of the launch. And it was right there!

Countdown clock

There was water behind it. And across that water, pretty tiny to the naked eye, the launch platform. The only identifiable part of the shuttle was the very tip of the big orange external tank. But still, there she was, “our” shuttle, Atlantis. And past the press buildings ahead on the right, a big white tent. That was our home base, the NASA Tweetup Tent.

The Tweetup Twent

Big enough to hold 150 people, air conditioned, big flat panels up front to air NASA tv, powerstrips for every table and wi-fi. They had hooked up a dedicated fiber for us to have wi-fi. It was so cool. They had everything a techno-addict needed.

Tweetup tent

This is the first tweetup I’d ever been to. I’d never even been to any local ones. There’s a weird thing about tweetups. Everyone introduces themselves with two names. It’s either “Hi, I’m HellZiggy. My real name is Sharon.” or “Hi, I’m Sharon. My Twitter name is HellZiggy.” Thanks to the STS-132 Tweetup list that @NASATweetup had put together of all the confirmed attendees, there were already some familiar faces and familiar names. Melissa and I met our fellow Minnesotans, and we also found Twitter friend@MatthewJLB. Our tweetup badges all had both our Twitter name and our real name, so sometimes you’d just catch a name as someone walked past.

Oddly enough, there were two other people at the tweetup that I was just 2 degrees of separation from. A guy named @Oblivion is friends w/one of my local geeks, Kami, and @AndyKilgore from Madison is friends with Sunspot’s drummer Wendy & knows the rest of the band. Out of 150 people from 30 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Netherlands, New Zealand and England, what are the freaking odds of that? Also, there was one person that wasn’t quite a friend of a friend. More like a nemesis. Twitter user @ErikHess was there, and his user name caught my eye because I know an Erik Hess on twitter, but his Twitter name is@fivesixzero. When I told “my” Erik he said to tell the one at the tweetup that he stole his name.

So, while everyone was setting up their equipment, we were all also chatting and getting to know each other. For a large group who didn’t know each other for the most part, it was really easy to just start conversations with people and get to know them. Of course, we were all used to talking to strangers via Twitter.

At shortly after 10am we were greeted by @NASA team members John Yembrick and Stephanie Schierholz. We had a bunch of really great speakers before breaking for lunch: Robert D. Braun, NASA chief technologist, NASA Headquarters Astronaut Janice Voss Jon Cowart(@Rocky_Sci ), Kennedy Space Center Stephanie Stilson, space shuttle Discovery Flow Director, Shuttle Processing Office, Kennedy Space Center Ron Woods, equipment specialist, who has been a space suit designer from Mercury to now

I could write up all the cool stuff they told us, but I have a crap memory for the details, so I’m going to just point you toward the Ustream video they shot! :)

Oh hey, that saved me a lot of writing!

We broke for lunch then, and I joined the herd that was heading toward the cafeteria. You know that crappy cafeteria food service you have at most companies? Yeah, NASA may have brilliant scientists, but they get the same average food as everyone else. It was AWESOME though since I hadn’t eaten ANYTHING that day, because I was too excited and too dumb to stop at a convenience store even. When got back from lunch it was pretty much time to get on the buses for our tour.

And that was the first half of the first day.


Space, the Final Frontier

Once upon a time I started a travel blog as I was trying to win a trip to Antarctica. I didn’t win the trip, and the barely updated blog petered out. I never had all the great adventures I was hoping for, but there was one pretty cool one. I went to a space shuttle launch! Because it was such a cool experience I’m going to repost the shuttle posts here. Originally posted Sunday, April 25, 2010: Even colder than Antarctica… Space!

No, I’m not going into space (although, how freaking awesome would that be?).

I’ll be doing the next closest thing – watching Space Shuttle Atlantis on her final launch into space.

And I’m going to have an AWESOME view of it! The closest place the public can view a launch from is about 6 miles away on NASA property from a Causeway if you purchase tickets from Kennedy Space Center.

I’ll be watching her take off from only about 3 miles away! Yep, yours truly will be seeing her first ever Space Shuttle launch from the Press/VIP/Family area. And of course, the Moose will be there with me too.

The only way to see a launch closer than I’m going to is to be strapped into a seat on the shuttle herself.

Now, I know you all realize I’m awesome, but I’m sure you’re still wondering how I managed too pull off something THIS cool. Twitter. I’ll be there because of Twitter. That wonderful little site that I’ve been using for over 3 years. The one many of my friends pick on me for, saying it’s useless and who cares about what everyone had for breakfast that day.

You see, I follow a HUGE range of people on Twitter. I started out following mostly podcasters. Some local geeks started using it. I found more interesting people by seeing who my friends were chatting with. Then the celebrities & businesses discovered it. Oprah & Ashton? Whatever. I had little to no interest in them before Twitter, I certainly don’t care that they’re on it. I follow the cool and interesting celebrities like Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) and Wil Wheaton (@wilw) and Adam Savage (@donttrythis). I also follow lots of geeky businesses & info sources – Wired Magazine (@wired), Think Geek (@ThinkGeek), Phil Plait (@BadAstronomer) and NASA (@NASA). There are also a bunch of astronauts on Twitter.

Almost exactly one year ago to the date that I’ll be watching Atlantis launch, I saw this Tweet in my Twitter stream: “From orbit: Launch was awesome!! I am feeling great, working hard, & enjoying the magnificent views, the adventure of a lifetime has begun!” 3:33 PM May 12th, 2009 via web. It was Mike Massimino (@Astro_Mike) sending the first ever Tweet from space. How can you not be enamored with the awesome geekiness  of Twitter at that point?

Flash forward to earlier this spring. My sister & her husband made plans to go down to Florida with their 5 year old twins in May to see one of the final Space Shuttle launches. They said they wished we could go too. My husband said he’d dreamed of seeing a live shuttle launch since he watched Columbia lift off on April 12, 1981. Well, we played with the finances and made it happen. A short trip to Florida with a small window to catch the launch. Fly down Thursday night, watch the launch on Friday, fly home on Monday morning. We’ve got two extra days if the launch is only delayed one or two because of weather.

I was already psyched about this trip. I’m planning the best way to photograph it. We decide to try to get Causeway tickets because it is the best opportunity for me to get a great photo of the launch. Then, on Twitter last week I saw that @NASA was going to have a Tweetup (Twitter speak for a gathering of Twitter users.) You just had to sign up, and they would choose 150 people at random.

At 11 pm last Wednesday I received this in my inbox:

Dear Sharon Snyder, Congratulations, your registration to attend the STS-132 Tweetup on May 13-14 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida has been selected! The two-day event will provide you with the opportunity to speak with shuttle technicians, engineers, astronauts, and managers and to view the launch of space shuttle Atlantis to the International Space Station that is targeted for 2:19 p.m. EDT, May 14. The Tweetup will also include a “meet and greet” session for participants to mingle with fellow Tweeps and the team behind the tweets from @NASA.

I was on cloud nine until I realized that I was indeed flying in to Florida on May 13th, but not until 11pm. And you had to check in and participate all day on May 13th or you’d forfeit your Tweetup registration for the remainder of the event (i.e. the launch on the 14th). My mood crashed because I wasn’t sure it would be remotely affordable to change my plane ticket to the 12th. Then I learned where we would be watching the launch from and I resolved to try. Rick agreed that it was the chance of a lifetime and if possible I had to do it. Then I found out even though buying a one way ticket to Orlando on the 12th was only about $100, it would be $230 to change my existing ticket. I wasn’t sure we should spend that much. But in the end it was decided that we had to. The opportunity was just too amazing. So, after a roller coaster day of “yay!” “argh!” “yay!” “argh!” it ended with very much a gigantic “YAY!!!”.

So, thanks to NASA, Twitter and my awesome husband, I will be having the experience of a lifetime on May 13-14th. Two days of geeky fun.

This doesn’t, however, mean I’m not going to keep trying to travel. Maybe not to space, but I still want to get out of North America! Until then, I’ll just keep enjoying the ride.

“Interim Problem Report 119V-0080” aka Space Bat

How did I never hear of this before now?

There was a stowaway on the March 15, 2009 launch of space shuttle Discovery.

Here’s the text from NASA’s page about it.

Bat Hung onto Shuttle During Liftoff


A bat that was clinging to space shuttle Discovery’s external fuel tank during the countdown to launch the STS-119 mission remained with the spacecraft as it cleared the tower, analysts at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center concluded.

Based on images and video, a wildlife expert who provides support to the center said the small creature was a free tail bat that likely had a broken left wing and some problem with its right shoulder or wrist. The animal likely perished quickly during Discovery’s climb into orbit.

Because the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge coexists inside Kennedy Space Center, the launch pads have a number of measures available, including warning sirens, to deter birds and other creatures from getting too close. The launch team also uses radar to watch for birds before a shuttle liftoff.

Nevertheless, the bat stayed in place and it was seen changing positions from time to time.

Launch controllers spotted the bat after it had clawed onto the foam of the external tank as Discovery stood at Launch Pad 39A. The temperature never dropped below 60 degrees at that part of the tank, and infrared cameras showed that the bat was 70 degrees through launch.

The final inspection team that surveys the outside of the shuttle and tank for signs of ice buildup observed the small bat, hoping it would wake up and fly away before the shuttle engines ignited.

It was not the first bat to land on a shuttle during a countdown. Previously, one of the winged creatures landed on the tank during the countdown to launch shuttle Columbia on its STS-90 mission in 1998.

Steven Siceloff NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center

It’s a Space Bat!


The red circle shows where he’s clinging to the external fuel tank.

If I was an injured bat who was going to die anyway, this would be an awesome way to go!