In Between The Tweets – The JUNO Tweetup Remembered

Filling in the Gaps of My NASA Juno Tweetup

Tweeters Capturing the Moment of Liftoff – Credit: Donald Schwartz

Tweeting at best is like dehydrated food, inedible without water. The missing water is the left out words. I’ve read insightful, revealing tweets and wondered what the tweeter had to do to fit his or her thoughts into 140 characters.

On August 4th and 5th 2011, I along with one-hundred and fifty others who signed up and were selected from the fifteen hundred who applied, tweeted the NASA Juno mission’s launch from Kennedy Center in Florida. Now many months after the event of the satellite launch to Jupiter I’ve gone back to add the water and reconstitute what I left out in composing and condensing my thoughts regarding an indelible event in my life.

If you’ve ever tried tweeting a live event you can appreciate the difficulty of keeping up with what is happening while trying to condense your observations.

Off-World and a Chance to Begin Again

Outer space, space travel and NASA make a lot of people yawn. I take a different view: I just can’t get enough of thinking and talking about what’s out there in all that blackness. I recall Carl Sagan’s Cosmos TV series refrain: “Billions and billions of stars” and see infinite possibilities. I remember Scotty, the chief engineer of the original Star Trek series, telling Captain Kirk “I’m giving you all I can” when he pushed the Enterprise’s warp drive engines to their limits. Unfortunately, our current rocket propulsion of exploding gases is a horse and buggy equivalent to what propelled the Enterprise. But I believe if we can imagine, we can do it.

Preston Dyches, a member of JPL’s Juno education & public outreach team, said “Sagan, never actually said ‘billions and billions’.” He explains in the opening of his final (posthumous) book, “Billions and Billions,” that he checked and Sagan never actually said the phrase on Cosmos. Dyches added, “Isn’t that something?” I agree.

On August 3, 2011, I registered at a motel in Titusville, Florida for my very first NASA Tweetup, an idea hatched by Stephanie Schierholz, the former Social Media Manager for NASA. The Ramada Inn and Suites had certainly seen better days. There was no AC in the hallways and the dark maroon rug in my room was rippling in places. The evidence of the past glory days persisted with signs in the lobby reminding lodgers just how close they were to the Kennedy Center.

NASA’s Boosters Primed for Launch

Tweeters Tweeting – Credit: Donald Schwartz

The idea of the NASA tweetup was to bring back some of the excitement NASA used to inspire by letting committed space enthusiasts share their own play by play commentary of the launch of the JUNO spacecraft with the world. The Juno spacecraft mission, while certainly not going where no spacecraft had gone before, was on route to spend a year getting close up and personal with the largest gas giant in our solar system.

All in all, we tweeters did pretty well, fulfilling our cheerleader role. The 150 of us came from 28 states and the District of Columbia, Canada, Finland, Norway, Spain, and the United Kingdom. NASA tracked 10,665 tweets as well as the subsequent retweets over the two days starting with a live broadcast whose audience was exponentially increased by the FOFs of the tweeters. I didn’t much care if the broadcast Tweeter/NASA conference registered with Nielson although I was hoping that we could somehow gain converts from our FOFs (friends of friends).

Conditions for Launch

The environment was hot and humid for August 4th and 5th, the two scheduled days of the NASA Juno Tweetup. A triple HHH day in Manhattan in mid August was, in my experience, comfortable by comparison. Everyone was dressed in jeans, t-shirts and cut-offs. Athletic body-types were not abundant. Fluids were provided for hydration in a large white tent with enormous air conditioners at either side. The reach of their cooling was modest and tweeters sometimes stood in front of these massive machines, arms raised in a pre-flight position.

Tweeters walk towards viewing stands.
VAB with NASA logo (right).
Tweetup HQ tent (left)
Credit: Donald Schwartz

The white tent, our HQ, was within walking distance of the launch viewing stands which resembled bleachers with desks added. Less than a hundred yards from the tiered stands was the countdown clock which initially was turned off when we arrived. On route to our designated parking area was the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building) which dominated the Central Florida skyline much as the Empire State Building once did New York City. The closest structures to our NASA tweet-up HQ were the broadcast news booths appearing starkly against a deep blue sky. For the JUNO launch they were unoccupied at launch time and perhaps, because of the glaring sun, the logos on their exteriors appeared faded recalling the abandoned towns along Route 66 bypassed by a newer interstate highway system.

On Being There (Here)

Seeing the places I had seen so many times before on TV and in Life Magazine, the launch assembly building, the bleacher viewing stands, the count-down clock and the NASA Press Room, was exhilarating and disheartening. Exhilarating because I was seeing what I’d never thought I would see close up, and disheartening, because if NASA was still captivating the nation’s attention, I’d probably not be here at all. ‘I never thought I’d see any of this,’ became a refrain I repeated first only to myself and then I spoke the words out loud not caring if others in the group could hear them.

There were many memorable moments during my two days at the Kennedy center. On August 4th, the first day, there was a morning Q&A NASA-tweeter presser followed by a bus tour of the Kennedy Center.

As we rode past long abandoned cement launch platforms soon to greet the lush vegetation of the wildlife refuge that the center was a part of, we viewed a number of buildings of historical significance. Many of these buildings had about as much visual appeal as military barracks, but everyone looked past their architectural failings, filling in what was lacking with their own historical memories. I recall the waves and smiles of the confident astronauts departing these buildings as they entered the van on route to their launch vehicles.

Our visit on day two, August 5th, to the NASA press facility adjacent to the elevated television booths, a welcomed easy walk from the Tweeter HQ tent, revealed the Juno tweeter character type. Although I can’t recall whether we were invited to sit behind the long wood desk on the narrow stage, many of us did. There was a flurry of cameras hastily passed back and forth to document our shared moment with history. Everyone did their best to appear officious and a few pretended to take questions from the non-existent press corps.

Donald pretends to take questions from the press

What I Left Out (WILO)

I tweeted approximately one-hundred and three times during my time in Central Florida. I’ve selected forty-eight tweets that, had Twitter and time allowed, I would have said more. I’ve also returned the pronouns, You for U, and added the deleted “a” and “the” articles, and the missing prepositions. I did take a few liberties with the completed wording.

Some Tweets stood on their own requiring no additional detail. I added a couple of re-tweets of others because they caught the spirit of the moment.

1. Getting the drift here regarding the passion of attendees; a fair amount of teachers who promise to carry home the message.

WILO: I’d be interested to hear more about the percentage of teachers invited.

2. Some guy tweeted reviews of the original Star Trek. Hey, I saw them when they weren’t in rerun.

WILO: Being a Trekkie is not looked down upon here. I have never been to a Star Trek convention nor do I plan to go, but many of the Trek stories taught me the value of knowing how to defeat a future machine-run world.

3. To those who couldn’t make it because (originally wrote: ‘for reasons that’) they are observing from another place, e.g. Goddard, Van Braun, Christie, etc

WILO: I’m undecided about the afterlife, but I’d like to believe those who believed in the future of rocketry: Robert Goddard, space travel: Wernher von Braun, or who sacrificed their lives to pursue NASA’s goal: Christa McAuliffe, are living on by the fact that I am remembering them at this moment.

4. This bird–do they still call them birds–has to go. The last time I went to a launch was to see the launch of the shuttle with my wife. They rolled…

WILO: ‘They rolled’ the shuttle back into the VAB and my wife and I left because Titusville lacked appeal. We never returned.

Throughout the two days of the JUNO Tweetup, I repeated, first to myself and then out loud, “I’d never thought I’d get to see any of this” whenever I saw a building, the Vehicle Assembly Building, or the NASA Press Center I’d only seen on TV.

5. The fun facts are piling up and the humor is quite outstanding. I wonder if there is a connection between that and space flight fans.

WILO: I thought I knew a fair amount about the space program, but my knowledge seemed superficial compared to some of the Juno tweeters. I had my facts wrong regarding what happened to the plans for the Saturn V rocket after the program was discontinued. According to one tweep, they were destroyed on president Nixon’s, orders.

6. The people here aspire. They look out and beyond. We need so much more of this–thinking quarter to quarter won’t get us to the planets.

7. Great heads-up thinking (FL) teacher stages fire drill so students can watch a launch. He or she shall go unnamed.

8. Hey, there’s a Schwartz Road — I saw it on the way. So I grant the launch, “The Power of the Schwartz.”

WILO: I was driving to Tweetup head quarters on launch day, August 5th and I was lost yet again, getting anxious and without much relief from my smart phone’s navigation system. Then I saw this street sign reading Schwartz Road and I knew all would be well, I would arrive in sufficient time and the launch would go well. (I took a bit of creative license with this one.)

FYI: “The power of the Schwartz” is a line of dialogue from the 1987 movie Spaceballs.

9. RT @charlieowen4: There are WAY too many interesting people to keep track of here! #NASATweetup. Yeah man. #NASAtweetup

Retweet: There are WAY too many interesting people to keep track of here!

Charlie WILO: Charlie please fill in.

10. Planetary Science Questions: How did we get here? Where are we going and are we alone? Are there amino acids elsewhere? Yes. Why does Europa have so much water?

WILO: How often do we hear people say ‘it’s not rocket science’ or ‘you don’t have to be a rocket scientist’ to emphasize that what they’re saying is so simple and that we should get it? While these questions are not simple, NASA’s rocket scientists have a responsibility to bring them into the realm of our understanding.

What will draw people to support space exploration? They have to get excited about it which is impossible if they don’t get it. In the 1983 film, The Right Stuff, Astronaut Gordon Cooper says, “You boys know what makes this bird go up? FUNDING makes this bird go up.” Astronaut Gus Grissom responds, “He’s right. No bucks, no Buck Rogers.”

11. Stephanie (Schierholz) is up. She is NASA’s social media person. This is the 23rd NASA tweetup. I feel such an awesome responsibility to give you an eye on.

WILO: When I said Stephanie ‘is up’ I actually wanted to tweet, “on the line” which is line (slang for on stage) spoken by Deckard, a character from Riddley Scott’s 1982 science fiction film Blade Runner, when he was trying to date Rachael, the nexus 6 replicant model.

Couple of thoughts: Why had I not heard about these events before? There have been twenty-two tweetups prior to this one. Was anybody listening in Twitterland beyond FOF(s) and other space geeks? Could I actually be other people’s eyes and ears in 140 characters?

Update: Schierholz left her position as NASA’s Social Media Manager.

12. The big question is: How to make space travel exciting again without humans on board? Answers from tweeters.

WILO: I believe that human spaceflight allows us to better identify with space exploration because the astronauts’ observations do not have to be translated from zeros and ones. There is also the vicarious thrill of risk which is always present when voyaging into a hostile environment.

Certainly easier to root for people than machines. Perhaps that’s why we frequently name our machines?

13. The numbers look good for attendance: 6,000 at Kennedy Center alone. With outside could break 10K.

WILO: I accepted these numbers without independent verification or at least two reliable sources outside this tent because I wanted to be the bearer of glad tidings. There is a too silent minority of NASA supporters.

14. Discover. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge. It’s exciting to know something nobody has ever known before.

WHILO: Of course there’s more to it. There’s the competitive factor which marketers are now calling gamification. There is also a place in history for those who can see beyond their allotted time.

15. Subject Juno. Juno power supply from panels. Array only puts out 400 Watts in orbit around Jupiter. Net power is equivalent to two, 200 Watt light bulbs.

WHILO: Comparing a spacecraft operational capabilities to the commonplace has long fascinated me. The three computers on Viking share just 68 KB of memory (Source: GizMag, 5/19/11). The computing power of the moon lander’s computer had less power than a cell phone (Source: PopSci, 7/13/09) –for kids just arriving I’m certain they’ll soon be asking for comparisons more contemporary to their lives.

16. @madge707 Yeah, engineering death match is not as funny as it would seem? Gamification can produce notable outcomes.

Scott Bolten (center)
Scott Levin (right) with glasses
Credit: Donald Schwartz

WILO: I didn’t actually leave this one. But the tweet subsequently became a topic of conversation with Steve Levin, NASA/JUNO project scientist, and tweeter Madge707, Madge Miller. The subject was the value of games as applied to the way we experience the world.

Levin felt that games limited young people’s ability to experience the world with their senses. He talked about the astronomy class he gave to liberal arts majors and the take home experiment on observing convection. Apparently students found the task difficult. They did not trust their own observations.

17. @Singing_Runner – don’t worry about the sophistical(edit: sophistication) of Q&A–just think of it as a form of poetry, e.g. electromag… (cont)

WILO: I guess the Q&A did move into some rarefied air at times. I sometimes feel that way when people apply numerical formulas to simplify complexity. Of course only @Singing_Runner can explain their metaphor. I use music in lieu of poetry when this situation arises.

18. RT @bbuckner: RT @debsting: I love that I’m attending an event where scientists are rock star celebrities gettinr…

WILO: I can only guess the thinking behind @debsting tweet, but I’d be surprised if it didn’t have something to do with the resentment of people in this tent for the undeserved attention our culture gives to rock star celebrities compared to the scientists whose contributions might have a lasting effect on our lives

19. Jupiter has no crust so if you’re looking for a soft landing it’s the place for you.

WILO: I didn’t leave anything out–one of the rare occasions when I said all I had to in 140 characters.

20. On schedule and on budget for JUNO. PLs tweet congress and inform them that NASA is not by cause profligate.

WILO: My personal view that NASA is not profligate. Sure projects are mismanaged, i.e. the James Webb telescope. But mistakes are to be expected when developing and refining new technology, and they are costly. On a line by line basis I don’t believe you will find $30-thousand dollar toilet seats on their accounting ledger.

21. Jan Chodas, JUNO project manager, talks about her skills in management and anticipating problems rather than purely technical.

WILO: I got the impression she was almost apologetic about it. Couldn’t understand why? Maybe because she is a numbers person? Certainly worthy of a follow up question.

22. RT @JaniceCane Lots of lady power at NASA. Love it. Yes, & we need to make these women rock starts too. They should have groupies.

WILO: Like the lyrics of the song: “Can’t touch this.”

23. JUNO (Editor: the spacecraft) is very self-ware, monitoring its own status. If one computer fails the other computer launches into safe mode allow for humans to work it out.

WILO: Allusions to Star Trek flashed through by brain imaging all those flashing light computers that talked back. Then I thought for a moment about the blue screen of death, VGA and safe mode on my PC. I recall the feeling of helplessness when I get a Dr. Watson error.

24. RT @CraftLass: :) RT @stepheniealice: Juno gets 3.8 million miles per gallon! Efficient AND attractive.

25. If engineers can shield equipment, how much further would we have to go to shield humans?

WILO: One of my aspiration posts. I was recalling NASA’s can-do reputation. Does everything have to have a dollar figure assigned to it?

26. Looking at the shuttle (Editor: Now retired) in the VAB this afternoon I wondered if NASA had gone ahead with a fully reusable vehicle could the program have survived.

WHILO: Recall reading about all the compromises made in design and wondered if a few less might have prolonged the program. My answer: probably not. But then Juno’s employment of solar panels was a necessary compromise base on meeting a launch deadline.

Juno spacecraft prior to enclosure – Credit: NASA

27. I could almost reach out & touch Juno which will never see earth again. I C how U cud be attached 2 an inanimate object.

WHILO: I could almost reach and touch the contents inside the launch vehicle’s protective cowling while considering that it will never see earth again. I can see better now how we can be attached to an inanimate object because we give names to boats, machines… and talk to them as if we could influence how well they work.

28. United Launch Alliance has four new Delta II’s available for anyone with discretionary cash.

WILO: Could anyone buy one? What would I do with it if I could? Who would launch it? Where would I get the fuel? If I was able to purchase the fuel would I then become suspect–recall the 2006 movie the Astronaut Farmer? Playing Charles Farmer, former astronaut now Texas rancher, Billy Bob Thorton is forced to fight the government when he seeks to launch himself into space as a private citizen after never getting into space as an astronaut. Hmmm…how things have changed on that score, for example the privately funded Space X launch and space station resupply mission becomes the model to follow.

I believe it very unlikely that Space X, Mojave Aerospace Ventures, creators of SpaceShipOne, or Orbital Sciences, under NASA contract to deliver cargo to the space station, will ever do anything resembling Juno’s pure research mission.

29. When viewing the massive cylinder that is the outer shell of the Atlas V I wished for a moment I could see beneath that brushed copper-colored skin.

WILO: I wished for super X-ray powers like never before standing before the massive polished copper-colored shell of the initial stage of a Atlas V prior to future its use on a future pace mission.

All this bulk will exhaust itself in a four-and-one-half minutes into the flight and then this metallic cylinder will fall into the ocean. The launch commentator refers to this moment as ‘BECO,’ short for booster engine cutoff, just prior to separation. (Source: Preston Dyches,Juno education & public outreach team, JPL)

The sense of human scale was more apparent here than standing before the Juno launch vehicle which was about two-hundred yards away from where I stood.

Donald at closest point to Juno launch pad
with Tiffin Smoothee

30. Bookends? RT @bobncomet: Would look great in my yard! RT @Ishkahbibel: ULA has 4 Delta 2s available 4 anyone w/cash. #NASATWEETUP

31. Buzz Aldrin’s son, Andy Aldrin, says his dad was cool because he could pole vault not because he was an astronaut.

WILO: Recalled the tweeter’s question well – questionnaire called his inquiry the “elephant in the room.” The question triggered a laugh from everyone at Tweeter HQ. Why was this an elephant in the room question? Besides I thought the elephant in question was supposed to be a gorilla ?

32. NASA chief scientist up – Dr. Abdalati up – urges us to let the kid in all of us out when the rocket lifts off.

WILO: Won’t take much for this crew.

33. Andy Aldrin (Editor: described) ULA (as a) block and tackle co – principally involved with chemical-based launch vehicles. Limited advanced propulsion.

WILO: I wonder if alternative propulsion systems are getting short shrift at United Launch Alliance (ULA)? Chemical propulsion is going to get us nowhere fast enough to conquer the enormous distances of space travel.

34. NASA chief administrator up – Charles Bolden receives standing O. Has flown the shuttle. Sidebar – shook his hand.

WILO: Wondered what other audience would respond the same way. Man with extraordinary people skills. Came to our table, shook hands and asked where we all from. Good people political skills.

35. See directed flame for Dan Goods (Editor: JPL Visual Strategist) website. re his visualizations at JPL.

WHILO: Fascinated by what it takes to animate an action that may be out of field of view or data that is difficult to understand. His website:

36. The cryogenic fuels are being loaded. Must adapt pipes to handle their shrink. Rex Englehardt (Editor: NASA Launch Services Program)

WHILO: The explosive nature of this form of propulsion is mind-boggling, channeling the exhaust in one direction–down. Imagine capturing and constraining the winds of a tornado.

37. People need to see, to connect so they need pics re prj Mngr (Editor: Mike Ravine) Junocam. Fact is there really was no need to see on science basis.

WHILO: Cameras do make it easier to participate in the launch. The image I find most compelling is watching the satellite move beyond the cameras’ vision from the booster into the void where even the longest cowboy lasso couldn’t pull it back. Extending ourselves, our senses is second best to getting play by play from a human who is not a passive receiver of experience. (I’ve shown my cards again.)

38. Are you nervous yet? Can your desire push the Atlas V into the sky and beyond. We will see.

WHILO: Thinking about whether rooting can actually make things happen. I know that trying to project my thoughts probably doesn’t extend further than the electrical seepage of my brain, but that doesn’t stop me from hexing a baseball pitcher by crossing my fingers or urging on the rising Delta rocket that has no awareness of me.

39. Favorite planets Saturn, particularly among women. (Bill) Nye, further says that if put Saturn in water it would float.

WILO: Here’s another poll I didn’t participate in. Why wasn’t I asked? If I agreed or disagree now that the vote is in would my nay or yea matter? As to Saturn buoyancy that might make a great trivia question ranking right up there with the only NYC subway that doesn’t cross into Manhattan as a part of its run.

40. 29 minutes to launch of JUNO. Everything will be the same except U (er me) are there.

WHILO: Why I say ‘er me?’ I’m putting myself in the place of everyone who was not there. Reference: Date 1957, TV show hosted by Walter Cronkite who narrates historical recreations and interjects himself into the event asking questions of the characters that we would have asked had we been there. You Are There may now be considered version 1.0 of the now popular TV historical dramatic recreations.

41. Nye suggests that the congress didn’t get the super collider because scientists talked about finding bosons. What nation do you want to make the next great discovery?

WILO: The technical illiteracy of our representatives is difficult to fathom. Our congressional representatives should take a science test. Testing and scores are so much in vogue these days so let’s make this a new litmus test prior to their assuming his or her seat. How can they make decisions when far too many lack basic technical literacy?

42. @Aleeson: We are in for a treat with 5 SRBs(Editor: Solid Rocket Booster). Lots of smoke, blasting sound and earth movement. T-21 minutes. DS: talkin’ boom

WILO: Ain’t nobody that doesn’t respond to a really big boom. After all, what really makes a fireworks display? The spreading filigree of colors–nice for an ahhh, but a chest- pounding boom that presses against the skin reminds you that you’re there.

Preston Dyches, JUNO education team, wrote, it takes about fifteen seconds for the first rumble to reach the press site, and maybe eight more seconds for it to reach full force, in response to my question about the delay between seeing the rocker’s exhaust and hearing it.

43. Out bound to our viewing position. I want to feel this. Called my wife in honor of the (Elton John) song Rocket Man.

WILO: No I wasn’t recalling the dialogue from the movie Jerry McGuire as reason for calling my wife Jennifer, but I might as well have been. The dialogue: “You complete me…” It’s just that this falls under the category of moments that beg sharing, preferably with a look instead of words.

44. This is a lot like the High Holy Day services when you know the doors are closing and you want to get written into the book of life for the next year.

WILO: Regarding the closing of the launch window. Reminiscent of liturgy “the doors are closing,” this is the last admonition of the last Jewish High Holy Day Services. The parishioners are desperately considering all their prayer options: is there anything that we can do or say that will make a difference to our futures. I’m doing the same kind of wishing and hoping for today’s launch of the JUNO mission.

45. The character of Juno tweeters exemplified: woman gets into a car accident and car is totaled, but she walks away and comes to tweet the launch.

WILO: I see a tweeter character match to Steve Yeager, played with panache by actor Sam Shepard in the 1983 movie The Right Stuff. The split seen should be our tweeter, dazed but upright waving off a trip to the hospital on one side and Sam Shepard striding away from the remains of his crashed Lockheed Starfighter with face blackened, chewing gum, on the other.

46. New target launch time 1225 hours. Optimism is renewed. Spirits are up. And the universe is in alignment.

WILO: I remember the go, no go poll at launch control, and how we suffered terrific mood swings comparable to the strongest possible sugar rush followed abruptly by the lowest despairing glucose level crash. But then we knew it was going to happen one way or another….

47. Here was a broad range of attendees at the Juno Tweetup. All responded to the launch with the amazed innocence of children seeing an undiscovered world.

WILO: I wish I could have come up with something that more clearly expressed my amazement and wonder at the time. When I was I innocent and didn’t know what to expect–that’s the moment I wanted to convey, but that’s the way I tweeted it not having “a one small step line” in my back pocket.

The viewing site is three miles away from the launch pad so I couldn’t smell the burning exhaust as much as I wanted to. I could clearly hear the sound of the rocket exhaust, like a hand rapidly slapping the surface of lake water.


Caption: Group Photo of JUNO Tweeters & NASA Scientists, Charles F. Bolden center
Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

I’m told by other launch viewer veterans that with larger launch systems, like the space shuttle, the sound of the rocket engine’s exhaust could be felt pressing against your chest. Maybe if NASA’s heavy launch vehicle, more powerful that the Saturn V that launched men to the moon, ever gets off the ground, I’ll go again.

Jupiter returns to Earth for flyby gravity assist in October 2013 (Source: NASA)

The JUNO spacecraft arrives at Jupiter July 2016 (Source: NASA)

Learning about Jupiter may allow scientists to reconstruct nearly five billion years of our solar system’s history. The planet has remained virtually unchanged since its formation. (Source: NASA/JPL)

Regarding Comments - I welcome comments, but I reserve the right to delete postings that are verbally offensive to me or anybody else. You can comment without attacking anyone personally. I have no problem with anyone criticizing my ideas or writings, but request you try to substantiate your views if you do. If I misspell a name or get a fact wrong, correct me and I'll revise the copy. My staff of fact-checkers is always on vacation or taking a break.

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