Lighten up, Frances

As of yesterday, I posted my last set of pictures from the Houston tweetup and announced the latest tweetup registration. Since this blog was originally only meant to document my trip to the final launch, and has now lasted past the landing and a little beyond, it has pretty much run its course.

There are 108 posts that each document a bit of NASA history, space shuttle history, Atlantis history, mission STS-135 facts, or just the tweetup experience itself.

Hopefully, these will be a useful source of information to someone.

Until I win another spot at a NASA Tweetup (which I suspect is VERY likely, as not many people register), posting here will now be light.

Thank you for reading any of it.  


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You Can Do It Too.

I’ve always liked space, but my life kinda changed on June 10th when I got the notice I’d won the STS-135 Tweetup, only to be followed by winning a spot on the STS-135 Mission Tweetup. If you have been the least bit jealous or thought me lucky, you can do the same thing. There are still NASA Tweetups to attend.

NASA will host a two-day launch Tweetup for 150 of its Twitter followers on Sept. 7-8 at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Tweetup is expected to culminate in the launch of the twin lunar-bound GRAIL spacecraft aboard a Delta II rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Signup will open for the GRAIL NASATweetup.

Tweetup registration opens at 9 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, July 26, and closes at noon EDT on Thursday, July 28. NASA will accommodate 150 participants randomly selected from those who sign up. Additional registrants will be placed on a waiting list.

Registration is for one person only (you) and is non-transferable.

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Mock ups

Our final stop on the most amazing tour was the building housing most of the to-scale mockups for training on the ISS, shuttle, soyuz, Orion, and any number of other craft. The room was like the convention floor of a civic center or large basketball arena. A glass catwalk around the top allowed viewing by the regular tour, but as typical, we were right down in the middle of it all. Heck, our tour guide was an astronaut. (Nothing halfway for NASA tweetups.)

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We called it a day and could have headed home if we wished, but there was an ‘after party’ at Chelsea’s Wine Bar. That and Boondoggle’s next door seem to be local NASA hangouts, as I was told there was a table of astronauts and mission control personnel at Boondoggle’s. So, if you’re vacationing in the area and want to increase your chances of meeting the famous, now you know where to eat. I heard Frenchie’s is also a hangout.

But we had our own astronaut, mission controller, and a facilities manager at our dinner, so I wasn’t jealous.

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Mission Control: Mission Possible

Our next stop was the Christopher C. Kraft, Jr. Mission Control Center, or Building 30. It’s also know by its call sign: Houston. As in the first word spoken on the moon, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” (I joked that my goal today was to talk to an astronaut in space and call myself Houston.) Other countries with spaceflight have mission control centers, but when most people talk of Mission Control, this is the place they mean. Mission Control in Houston manages all manned spaceflight missions for America, including the now former shuttle program and the ongoing ISS program.

They were planning a big party on the lawn for all JSC employees and family to watch the final shuttle landing together. They also warned us that the area was under surveillance.  Which was kind of humorous because with all of our cameras, cell phones, and camcorders, we were electronically surveilling them as much as they were surveilling us.

The building was named just this past April for Christopher C. Kraft, Jr. who is doubly blessed in that he was born a Virginian and then later attended the finest education institution on the planet Earth: Virginia Tech. Of course, at the time he was in the Corps of Cadets, it was known as Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and sometimes called VPI. He worked for NASA before it was called NASA and shaped what the control center is today. His middle initial “C” stands for Columbus. With a name like Christopher Columbus Kraft, his destiny with exploration was already planned out, it seems.

There are several mission control rooms in Building 30. Two rooms were used during the Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, and early Shuttle programs,  but the second of those rooms on the third floor is now a Nation Historic Landmark. I sat in the flight director’s chair and showed that picture to my children, comparing it with pictures of Gene Kranz during Apollo 13, and Jay Greene during the Challenger disaster. They were suitably impressed that it was the same station. Watching the launch a couple of weeks ago was an incredible experience, but I’d have to say the Apollo-era mission control room pegged my geek-out meter like nothing else. There was a normal tour going on while we were there, behind the glass, probably wondering who these 30 people were who were allowed to run around a National Historic Landmark like children.



There was a red phone without a dial, so of course I wondered who it called. Let’s just say the president and go with that. The old fashioned switches, and vacuum tube delivery systems were amazing.


Around the room are plaques for the various missions that were run from the room, with the Apollo 11 having special place. One of the displays in the Apollo-era mission control was a mirror taken from the Aquarius, the LM-7 from the Apollo 13 mission.  The inscription says, “This mirror, flown on the Aquarius, LM-7, to the moon, April 11-17 1970, Returned by a greatful Apollo 13 crew to “reflect the image” of the people in mission control who got us back!”  Yes, it says “greatful” and not grateful. Oh well.

We visited the Apollo-era mission control room second, actually. First we went to the current Mission Control, which was, uh, controlling a mission. It has managed 60 shuttle missions and saw its last just this week. That room we were NOT allowed in, to run around taking pictures. We went into the viewing room behind the glass, after being warned to not use any flashes. I took several pictures outside to make sure my flash wouldn’t turn on. Of course, it was dark, and without a flash or a tripod, most of my pictures were blurry, especially when I would zoom in for details. But a few turned out great.

Just like the previous mission control, there were various plaques, flags, and mementos around the room that doubtless have interesting stories to go with them. After seeing the shuttle crew wake up for the very last day of Space Shuttle flight to God Bless America, I noticed that the flags were in all my pictures taken just hours before. (The crew was in sleep cycle when we were there so it was rather quiet and low-activity).

There are three screens on the front wall. The left screen listed issues that they’d dealt with and times. For example, there had been a fault in a cabin fan. The right hand side shows the orientation of the shuttle orbiter. The center screen has a map of the Earth with three orbits marked in the sine wave pattern. The shuttle was near South America when we came in, and was past Africa when we left. The area of overlap of the green circle and the yellow circle was a Loss Of Signal area, and when the shuttle entered, almost every one in the room left. Break time! Otherwise, mission control is staffed around the clock with three shifts.

The different positions are marked signs designating their jobs. The Flight Director is the boss, and CAPCOM is the person who talks to the astronauts, often a former astronaut. In the pictures below, you see one station is dark, because their job, rendezvous with the ISS, was completed. In fact, the mission controller who sits in that station was instead talking to us. Her talk was interrupted by a phone call to one of our guides, from Astronaut Ron Garan, calling from space, on the ISS. Remember my joking goal from the first paragraph? Well, I realized that goal. I talked to an astronaut in space this week, and I called myself Houston. Except I said, “Atlantis, this is HOUSTON!” in my excitement before remembering he’s on ISS, not Atlantis. Eh, I still got to be Houston. 🙂

If you see pictures of it, you may want to look for the roses, delivered for every launch, or the hourglass kept by the team that plans the crew activities.

As the last shuttle came to a halt, and the job of US manned flight came to an end, there were no tears in the control room, by tradition. “You guys must know that we do have a motto in the Mission Control Center that flight controllers don’t cry,” Ceccacci had told reporters Wednesday. “So we’re going to make sure we keep that.”

“Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered, a civilization gone with the wind.”

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Boy Oh Buoyancy

The Neutral Buoyancy Lab was our next stop. The huge pool is 40 feet deep and 200 feet long, with 6.2 million gallons of water. In the pool are mockups of the ISS and the shuttle payload bay. I presume they’ll be taking out the shuttle bay.

There was a training exercise going on while we were there. Two of the people who normally train the astronauts were in the suits. So it was a ‘training the trainers’ day. Along with the people in spacesuits, there were several divers around them.






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After the simulators, we broke for lunch at Building 3, the JSC cafeteria. By then, all 30 of the tweeters were power hungry, meaning we all needed to recharge our phones. The rest of the day, any time we paused in a tour, people were looking for plugs and trying to power up. Many ran out of power before the end of the day. There was also a small gift shop, but as soon as I walked in, they announced it was time to go.

On the public tour, they advertise eating at this employee cafeteria as the place astronauts eat. Sure enough, Mike Massimino walked by our table.

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NASA giving away Space-era Artifacts

Non-profit museums, colleges, and schools can request space shuttle tiles and other excess property from the NASA program at this website: GSAXcess.

There is a multi-stepped process and frankly, I’m not sure exactly how to do it. But clearly you start by registering at the site; something I can’t do because I’m not affliated with a school or museum. One side says the deadline for “pre-screening” is July 27th, while the middle column says the shuttle tile requests are closed until September because of summer break.

Prescreening Period 7: Start Date – 06/15/2011; Internal prescreening ends – 07/06/2011; External prescreening ends – 07/27/2011 (Includes Shuttle, Hubble, Apollo, and International Space Station artifacts) New!

Either way, you can ask for anything on their list (apparently you go through a list and put things in a shopping cart like many online sites) and you pay only SHIPPING.

NASA Shuttle Space Artifacts Prescreening Login

For example, shuttle tiles, probably the most obvious item in my opinion, will show a cost of $1000, but that is their book value of it. Any school requesting one would pay only around $24 for shipping.

The right hand side of the above linked website shows two ways to request an artifact. If you are requesting through the Federal Surplus Personal Property Donation Program, you don’t enter your NCES number but follow one procedure, and if you’re requesting directly from NASA you use another procedure. Perhaps the first one puts the shipping costs on the taxpayer dime so there are more hoops to jump through.

Shuttle tiles aren’t the only objects. A quick slideshow shows a spacesuit glove, a laptop without a harddrive, all the way up to an orbiter payload bay mockup. Can’t imagine the shipping on THAT one.


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