Tweet you @Spacecenterhou!

On February 17, Space Center Houston Partnered with NASA’s Johnson Space Center to host a Twitter event known as a tweetup.  A select group of guests were given the opportunity to go behind the scenes during a live shuttle mission, STS-130.  For most, it was the experience of a lifetime.

Space Center Houston is thrilled to welcome Norah Schneider as our guest blogger this month as she takes us behind the scenes of this remarkable event.

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As a child, did you wonder what it would be like to go into “Outer Space”?

The concept of “Outer Space” fascinates those young and old alike.  I was no exception to this fantasy.  As a young girl, I was captivated by the moon, stars, and beyond.  For many of us, it just grabs you and won’t let go.  This transcends from an innocent child to the curious adult.

My love of aviation and space exploration began at an early age.  By age fourteen, I was taking private flying lessons and was a member of the Civil Air Patrol.  I was on the right track and would not stop until I reached my goal of becoming an astronaut.  I would fly into space and live out my childhood dreams.  My passion was unwavering; even as I watched the sad events of the Space Shuttle Challenger live in my science class during my sophomore year in high school.  This was what I wanted, and this would be what I would achieve.

My dreams came to an abrupt end on Thanksgiving Eve, 1987.  As an inexperienced driver, I was unable to control my car as I hydroplaned on wet roads.  I was thrown from my vehicle and lay in a field wondering why I could not feel my legs.  I had broken my back, and I was paralyzed from the waist down.  As I awoke from surgery, I will never forget being told that I may never walk again.  I was faced with an uncertain future, and I knew at that moment I would never become an astronaut.  My dreams were shattered.

With tremendous family support, I was able to rehabilitate back to walking albeit with braces and a cane.  That was an accomplishment I was told I could never achieve.  I use a wheelchair for long distance like grocery shopping and going to the mall.  I defied the odds and went as far as my body and mind would take me.

Although I was extremely fortunate to survive the accident and to regain some mobility, I became bitter about my lost dreams of becoming an astronaut.  My love of space was still there, but it was buried deep inside.  I no longer closely followed the space program and tried to forget about the dreams I once had.

Fast forward 20 years.  I have a MBA and a successful business.  Life was good.  One day, my 6 year-old son asked me if I had ever thought about what it would be like to go into “Outer Space”.  I realized I was looking in a mirror.  My son had inherited my love, the love I had buried deep inside for so many years.  His question to me woke the sleeping giant.  From that point on, my son and I spend hours reading books  about space and rockets, watching Space Shuttle videos online and sharing my dreams from long ago.  He was enthralled by the idea of becoming an astronaut, and I was more than willing to promote his thoughts and dreams.

As I jumped back into NASA head first, I saw that they were embarking on the forefront of technology with social networking.  I added NASA to my facebook page and followed their updates.  Then one day I created a Twitter account.  Little did I know what was to come my way.  I was new to Twitter, but I soon realized this was one COOL way to stay updated on NASA and the space program.  Not only did I start to follow NASA on Twitter, but I was able to follow NASA astronauts and share their tweets with my son.

Twitter, for those of you unaware, is the latest rage in instant messaging with a strict limit of 140 characters per update.  With a Twitter account, you can follow others with Twitter accounts and even have tweets sent to your mobile phone.  Tweets, as they are called, are public and can be read on the public TwitterStream.  NASA has taken tweeting to a whole new level.  I can follow the astronauts before, after and during missions as they share their daily experiences as an astronaut.  Astronauts are able to actually tweet from space and some include pictures in their tweets of views from the Shuttle and International Space Station (ISS).  How much better can it get for a space-nut or as we like to call ourselves, Twitternauts or Space Tweeps?  By NASA tweeting, they are able to renew interest, gain new followers, and educate the public on the daily workings of the space program and NASA in general.

One of the NASA Twitter accounts I noticed and started to follow was @NASATweetup.  A Tweetup sounds interesting, huh?  Tweeps can enter a drawing to have the unbelievable opportunity to attend a Tweetup hosted by NASA and scheduled around an important space-related event.  A Tweetup could be to watch a shuttle launch from Kennedy Space Center (KSC), an Atlas 5 rocket launch the Solar Dynamics Observatory to monitor solar activity, or to visit Mission Control at Johnson Space Center (JSC).  I added @NASATweetup to my followers and stayed glued to my account looking for such an opportunity.

About a month ago, I received a tweet announcing an opportunity to visit JSC during mission STS-130.  The event would include a behind the scenes tour of JSC and Mission Control and a “meet and greet” to mingle with fellow Space Tweeps and NASA staff.  Who could resist this opportunity?  I submitted my entry and crossed my fingers.

Not for a moment did I believe I would be randomly selected for this event. I had attempted to view a Space Shuttle launch from KSC for about the last year to no avail.  Whether the mission was scrubbed due to weather and I could no longer wait in Florida for the launch or the snowstorm of the decade that cancelled my flights, I had managed to miss seeing a launch a grand total of 7 times.  There was no way with my NASA luck the way it was running that I would be selected for this event.

One Friday evening as my son and I were playing Space Camp on Wii, I heard an email come through on my phone.  I casually picked up my phone to take a quick peek while Mason was destroying asteroids.  I read an email that was too good to be true.  Congratulations, you have been selected to attend the @NASATweetup at JSC.  Finally, my luck had changed.  As I wheeled through the house screaming with joy, Mason ran right next to me enjoying the moment as much as I did.

I arrived in Houston from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania the night before the event.  I had created a list of the @NASATweetup attendees and watched on my cell phone as the Twitternauts shared their excitement of the rapidly approaching event.  I did not want to allow myself to get too excited, but I couldn’t help but to tweet my elation to my new space buddies about the day ahead of us.  Aside from NASA calling me to join the next shuttle crew, lol, this was the next best thing.

I arrived at Space Center Houston the following morning with a bundle of nerves and shear excitement.  I checked in and received my official @NASATweetup badge and a bag of NASA goodies.  As I sat in the main area of the Space Center, I looked around at all of the people I felt I already knew and watched them share with the world through Twitter what was to be one of the most exciting days in our little Space Tweeps lives.

We began our day with an introduction to Dr. Robert Satcher.  I was in awe.  He had just come home from STS-129 and was sharing his experiences with us.  @Astro_Bones, as he is called on Twitter, shared with us a video from the astronauts from STS-130 who were currently on the ISS welcoming us to the Tweetup.  The large screens in the front of the auditorium showed a live stream of tweets from all of us in attendance.  NASA even arranged for the session to be aired online.  You better believe Mason and my mother sat glued to the computer watching one of my dreams come true.

Dr. Satcher opened the floor to questions, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to partake.  As the tweet read, “Good @Astro_Bones Q from mciloghomes (my Twitter name): how to keep kids excited abt space after Shuttle? A: Focus on ISS, science, Int’l coop”. NASA even tweeted a picture of me during the session that I was able to view within seconds as along with the rest of the world.

Isn’t technology cool?  My mother later told me that when Mason heard me ask Dr. Satcher the question and when I included his name, his eyes lit up as mine had as a teen talking about becoming an astronaut.  It was official; NASA had a new space enthusiast at the ripe young age of six.

NASA then treated us to lunch, and we all soaked up the experience.  Cell phones were on fire with tweets flying through the lines at rapid speeds.  Many of us took the opportunity to meet the people we had tweeted with so many times leading up to the event.  It was a pleasure to put a face with those who shared the same passion and enthusiasm.

The day only got better from there.  We were taken on a tour of the Sonny Carter Neutral Buoyancy Lab where astronauts train under water.  We were shown the “big pool” by one of NASA divers who was a wealth of information and we all listened closely to all that he would share with us.  Our next stop was the Astronaut Training Facility.  We were introduced to the director of the facility and were given a tour to view all of the mock components of the ISS, the Tranquility module, the newly installed Cupola, as well as the mock Shuttle.  After learning all about how the astronauts were trained, we were given the opportunity to actually go into the Space Shuttle Mid Deck and Flight Deck.  I sat in my wheelchair and stared at the flight of steps leading up to the Mid Deck.  My fellow Tweeps had a perplexed look on their faces as they wondered how I would partake in this exciting opportunity.  As a NASA staff member approached, I announced that I didn’t care if I had to crawl up the steps; I was going to get up there to take full advantage of this unbelievable opportunity.  As the Space Tweeps chuckled, I mapped out my plan of attack.  This was not going to be another impossibility for me.  That wasn’t even an option.

I sat and waited my turn.  A NASA staff member pointed out astronaut Clayton Anderson who was there preparing and training for STS-131.  He walked past me and I simply said, “Godspeed”.  He stopped, came back to me, shook my hand, and introduced himself.  OMG, I had just shook the hand of an astronaut.  This gave me all I would need to make it up to the Flight Deck of that Shuttle and get so close to the dream I lost so many years ago.

It was not pretty, but with lots of help, I made it to the floor the Flight Deck.  I just sat there and took it all in.  I had made it.  I had finally made it.  I, not believing what I was so fortunate to experience, was at JSC surrounded by people who shared the same passion and was sitting on the floor of the Shuttle Flight Deck.  It was a surreal moment that I will never forget.

Could it get any better than this?  Well, yes it could.  Next we were bused over to Shuttle Mission Control.  Please note that all of my fellow Space Tweeps are busy sharing our experiences with the world on Twitter in the photo.  We were at the Mission Control for the daily wake-up call to the astronauts and toured around the facility by the Flight Director.  We toured the Historic Landmark Apollo Mission Control where so much space history took place, and then we ended the day at the ISS Mission Control just in time for the live conversation between the ISS residents and President Obama.  All of us were tweeting our little hearts out with each new room they took us into.  At one point, we were told that we were the third highest conversation topic in Houston on Twitter during the event.  We were there to tweet and tweet we did.

I really have a hard time putting into words what NASA helped me fulfill with this @NASATweetup event.  This was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I will never forget.  In addition to being so educated on all aspects of JSC and being able to tour those facilities, I was able to meet so many people that share the same love, passion, and enthusiasm for NASA and the space program as I do not to mention all of the staff members who make this all happen.  I forged new friendships that I will forever be grateful.  NASA has outdone themselves with using social networking to invigorate a space program that is at the cusp of amazing accomplishments.  If you ever think that a dream has been broken, don’t give up hope that a new door will open to bring back that dream and make it become a reality which is exactly what has happened to me.