A few months ago, a friend of mine posted a link on Facebook with the simple caption: “!!!” That link was a call-to-action from NASA to apply to be a part of their NASA Social program. They were looking for folks with social media chops to visit Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc, California and live-tweet/Instagram/Tumbl*/Facebook/Pin/Flick/etc. the launch of their Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite.
I applied on a whim, submitted my different social media channels, Klout score, and a short essay on why I should be involved with the NASA Social program. I left it to fate, and on the last night of Hanukkah (another miracle!), I found out I was chosen as one of 50 social media ambassadors to go out and tour the facilities, see the red button they push when it’s “Go Time,” and meet other space-loving people from around the world!
In the email that was sent to the group of us, Pismo Beach was noted as “closeby accommodations” to Lompoc. I didn’t need to read any further. My ‘90s-obsessed heart almost burst at the seams. I NEEDED to go stay in the very place where Cher Horowitz donated her skis in the movie Clueless.
Needless to say, it was one of my better ideas. I had two nights of gorgeous sunsets that looked just like this:
Vandenberg Air Force Base was about an hour north of Pismo. The first activity we were brought to was a press conference aired on their website and television station. Here, we got to interview the scientists, engineers, and marketing team behind Soil Moisture Active Passive. They explained that SMAP’s purpose is to rotate around the earth, monitoring soil moisture and weather. It’s going to help enhance predictive skills around weather and climate, potentially helping prevent or predict floods, fires, and freezes — certainly something of interest for folks in Colorado.
The NASA Social program exists for a very smart reason: free publicity. NASA brings in people with interesting and wide social media presences in an array of different areas— both location-wise and interest-wise. The goal is to get new people talking about NASA projects within their own networks, creating new constellations (as we say here at Widefoc.us!). It’s a brilliant idea and works so well. While the participants were all tweeting about the press conference and satellite, NASA’s social media team was busy interacting with all of us, and our networks, creating natural, organic engagement via conversation.
After the press conference, we got to see all of the behind-the-scenes testing and technology. I was actually surprised to see that everything was being run on computers that looked like they were from 1998. And running Windows 1998. Not a huge update from the first keyboards or computers featured in their museum:
From there, we stopped by the place where SMAP was going to launch the next morning. We all took selfies with Delta 2, as instructed. Success!
The next morning, I woke up at 3:30 a.m. and got ready in my NASA-launch best. Drove an hour down the coast to Lompoc. Was seated in the VIP NASA Social bleachers for the launch. Ate a few peanuts with the other NASA Social folks. Waited. We got to listen to the conversation in the base. There was a 3 minute window for the launch. If they did not make it within that window, it was going to be scrubbed.
I was confident that wouldn’t happen. The weather was perfect.
Suddenly, there was a message from the Base: the launch was being moved from 6:30 to 6:31. The window was down to two minutes.
At 6:30, they said they were locked and loaded to launch. The countdown began.
At 6:32, the wind was sucked right out of our sails and blown into the upper atmosphere, where it was apparently too windy for a successful launch. It was scrubbed at the last minute. The other 200 or so people who had gathered to watch shrugged, got up, and left. I sat there with my mouth hanging open.
The launch was rescheduled for the next morning, but I was too nervous that the same thing would happen. So I drove back down to Los Angeles, feeling defeated.
I was so glad to have had the experience, though. Learning all about the history of NASA and all the good that SMAP will do for the planet made me feel great about the future of climate technology. Hopefully, the satellite (which did launch) will help places like Colorado avoid fires and floods. NASA’s social media team is impressive, as well. NASA has accounts for all of their launches, satellites, rockets, bases, organizations, astronauts, and programs. Oh my!
I highly recommend applying for the next NASA Social event! It’s an awesome way to connect with other space geeks and learn about the new technologies that are moving exploration of the universe forward.
—by Sara Grossman
Sara Grossman is a Floridian-New Yorker now residing in Denver and the newest member of the WideFoc.us team. When she isn’t busy thinking in spurts of 140 characters, you can find Sara enjoying live music, planning her next travel adventure, and trying to make her Mini Schnauzer famous on Instagram!