November 16, 2009 in Nation/World

NASA turns to tweeps

Twitter followers invited to experience today’s launch
Marcia Dunn Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Space shuttle Atlantis readied for today’s launch at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
(Full-size photo)

Launch conditions

Today’s launch time for Atlantis is 2:28 p.m. Excellent weather is forecast.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Fingers will be flying when space shuttle Atlantis blasts off today: About 100 of NASA’s geekiest fans will be on hand, pecking away at iPhones, BlackBerrys, laptops and other Twittering gadgets.

They plan to let loose with electronic messages – provided they aren’t so swept away by the afternoon liftoff that they fall uncharacteristically silent for a moment or two.

“I’ll be uploading stuff as it happens,” promised Steve Wake, 38, a computer programmer who flew in from Denver. “On launch day, who knows? I may be too excited about everything else to even think about doing that stuff. When it’s over with, I’m sure I will.”

Laura Burns already has a strategy. She figures she’ll have the words typed in and her finger hovering over the button so she can send a tweet at the moment of liftoff.

“I’ll have to be like juggling my iPhone and my camera and my eyes, and trying to get everything all at once,” said Burns, 33, a software systems engineer from Columbia, Md. She’s using the Twitter name “moonrangerlaura” to chronicle her entire trip – including the drive to Cape Canaveral and a pit stop for MoonPies.

For the first time ever, NASA last month invited its Twitter followers to sign up online for the chance to see a space shuttle launch up close.

The 100 slots – and 50 backup positions – filled in less than 20 minutes Oct. 16.

The two-day gathering got under way Sunday at Kennedy Space Center with talks by NASA bigwigs, including the first Twittering astronaut, Michael Massimino, aka Astro-Mike. Nearly half the attendees are from Florida, making for an easier trip, especially if the mission ends up being delayed. Atlantis’ six astronauts have thousands of pounds of spare parts to deliver to the International Space Station. The 11-day flight will keep the astronauts in orbit over Thanksgiving.

The tweeps, as they’re called, represent 21 states plus the District of Columbia, as well as five countries, including Morocco and New Zealand. They’re traveling on their own dime.

With only six shuttle flights remaining and still no word from the White House on a future course for astronauts, NASA is tapping into social media to spread its stay-in-space message.

Astronauts have been tweeting from Earth and orbit since spring.

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