135: Another #NASAtweetup Adventure

I was not invited to this one.

No, I didn’t sneak in either.

Before Endeavour had even vanished aglow into the cruelly low ceiling of clouds on her final [operational] flight, STS-134, I knew I had to try to come back for STS-135. No, really, I knew I would come back to see Atlantis launch, one way or another. I did apply for the tweetup, of course, but as expected, did not get in. (Even if they didn’t automatically eliminate folks who’d already made a launch tweetup, there’s no way I’d get that lucky twice in a row!) I registered for a chance to purchase tickets for one of KSC’s public viewing areas as well, but didn’t win that lottery either. Undeterred, as soon as they set the target launch date, I started figuring out travel potential travel options and kept looking for any available tickets. After all, this was the last space shuttle launch ever. It wasn’t like there was going to be another chance to catch one, and I did not intend to pass it up if I could help it!

I told my Dad that I meant to go back down, expecting him to understand, if not actually join me again… but he kinda flipped out on me instead, so I had to let it drop for a while. He eventually came around and did decide to join me if he could make it a work trip again, so for the third time in as many months, I kicked the plan-making into high gear!

One of the crazier things I’ve done

For the last few launch tweetups, since they’re two-day events and tweeps come from far and wide for them, people have started a bit of a tradition of getting groups together to rent vacation houses for the week. As I’ve mentioned, my uncle (who works on the shuttle) and aunt live nearby, so for both of the previous trips, we-and-then-I just stayed with them. However, I felt like I was both wearing out my welcome and missing a-whole-mother element of tweetuppy goodness, so I decided to look into a shared rental for round three.

The fine folks at NASA did invite tweeps who had been at the 133 or 134 tweetups but hadn’t make it back for their actual launches to come back to watch this one from the press site with the 135ers, which was nice. Would have been nicer if that included me, but it did mean @Stephonee and several others we now knew would have a very good reason to make the trip, so we decided to try to get a house together (which took nearly as much convincing Daddy as the trip in the first place, but once again, he did eventually agree, if only so I wouldn’t be stranded if he needed to go off to do worky things), so Steph and I started looking for a good one.

We both put in so much time and effort and (being the organizational nerds we are) spreadsheet work, just in the preliminary scouting of what rentals were cheapish, could accommodate several unrelated people, and were still actually available, that we felt compelled to share all that research with the 135 tweetup attendees and the rest of the alumni and other space tweeps who’d be looking for places to stay that week.

Get ready, here comes the crazy part…

Somehow, for some now-unknown reason, we came to the conclusion that it would be a good idea and just go ahead and organize everybody’s housing who wanted us to.

O.O

Yup. And we did. We figured we’d maybe get enough alumni and a few of the new group to fill one or two big houses, maybe three. So we compiled our lists, put the word out, and started collecting info from folks who were interested. And the response was… impressive. Thankfully, It occurred to me early on that this was going to involve a crazy-ass-ton of email, so I snagged a new gmail account just for this… and boy was I glad I did.

As the first bunch of people indicated interest, the info we gathered seemed rather haphazard, so I made a survey/form thing to standardize it and make sure we got what we needed to know the first time and not have to email back and forth a thousand times. Then, our offer the link to the form got tweeted to the masses… over 100 responses!

So we were really in it now. D: And we had just under a month to work with, before people would start arriving!

Mad scouring of the interwebs, half a godzillion emails and phone calls to property owners, and 3 massive drowning-in-data spreadsheets, and we started piecing things together, forming strangers from all over the world, by the half dozen, into groups of temporary roommates, finding them houses and condos to rent, and facilitating communications and/or transactions to seal the deal.

Of course, it being summer in a vacation spot, and oh yeah, the little matter of an expected million people converging on the area for the same reason we were, finding available rentals on short notice was not exactly cake-like. Also, my computer up and died (the rest of the way) a week before we left, which didn’t exactly help! But we did it. It took us a while, but we did it. Not everyone who expressed interest ended up joining a tweetup house, but in the end, we had organized or helped coordinate 9 houses, accommodating over 60 tweeps altogether!

#SerenityHouse

The first time the idea of getting a shared rental for the 135 launch came up, long before any of it was actually decided (possibly while we were still at the 134 tweetup?) the conversation went like this:

Steph: “So you realize if we get a house together, it has to be called #SerenityHouse, right?”
Me: “Of course.”

Tweetup group houses traditionally have names, and being the domain of spacetweeps, they’re usually space themed and hashtagged. When we decided that we were actually going to go the rental house route, it was not even a question that ours would be named after our favorite fictional spaceship!

And oh was it shiny.

#SerenityHouse

It was a little farther away from KSC than we wanted, way down at the southern tip of Merritt Island. And I do mean way. way. down. At the very end of the island. It tapers down to a skinny little spit of land between two rivers the farther south you get, and by the time you get to where this house is, it’s only wide enough to fit one house across, plus the road to get to the next one. It’s not even a road, technically, but a private driveway to reach the last 10 or so houses… only 3 of which are farther than ours.

It has a dock on both sides, and I think it was just about as far out to the end of the main one as from one river to the other… crazy.)

The Dock

The smaller dock

The owners are apparently really fond of spiral stairs and turquoise glass block, which I didn’t know existed, but they managed to not only find but incorporate into pretty much every room in the place!

Main living area

Kitchen

Besides Daddy and I and Steph, the “crew” of #SerenityHouse also included Steph’s boyfriend @_caturday, a couple of Steph’s friends and their munchkin, and fellow tweetup alumni @JackDearlove, @DrLucyRogers, @genejm29, and @RobPegoraro. There was a great deal of awesome, smart, and snark going on in that house!

We ended up getting the master bedroom, which turned out to be the whole top floor! It was pretty much enormous… and strangely devoid of furniture.

From the top of the stairs

And behind the fireplace, a hot tub! (And…a giant rhinoceros horn?)

(That counter wrapping around the glass block wall continues about 5 more feet to the left and ends with a minifridge and bar sink… add a microwave and you’d have got a killer studio apartment! The stained glass door leads out to a deck and stairs to the roof, the windows to the right are actually giant screened-in sliding doors, and there’s another screened-in balcony opposite them! Insane!)

The views were incredible. I’m afraid to even wonder what this place is worth?! I seriously want to know what the folks we rented it from do for a living! And yet the weekly rental was pretty reasonable for a group!

Marina at night

Sunrise

Obviously, I did not particularly want to ever leave.

Perfection much?

However, we did, of course. Several times in fact! 😛 (and then once at the end, when we didn’t go back!)

Pre-Launch Wanderings

Most folks, including us, got into town sometime Wednesday. The tweetup started Thursday, but those of us not attending had a day to hang out before the launch, so when we got to the house around 11 Wednesday night, I wasn’t too concerned about getting to sleep… and thus was still awake and tweeting at 3:30, when I discovered that @Ruthie147 had never gotten connected with a ride from her hotel to KSC. It wouldn’t have been hard to find her a carpool even on short notice, except that, being from Ireland, she needed to leave rather early to hit the international badging place before heading to the regular tweetup check-in, and it seemed like most of the other international tweeps had either been around for early registration or were coming from the opposite direction, and nobody else was heading out that early – the sort of early that my “late” was rapidly turning into – so I just drove up and took her over myself.

Once she got her super special international visitor’s badge and we found some other tweeps she could catch a lift with to the regular check-in and on to the press site, I headed back, detouring to a Starbucks to make use of some of Ruth’s overly generous gas money (and to mollify Daddy, who was less than thrilled upon waking up to me and his car being gone). Back at the house, there was breakfast, squeezed a bit of work in, some twittering, some puttering, and then we gathered the troops and headed off to Fishlips for lunch!

#SpaceTweeps, assemble!

Space tweeps, assemble!

AstroTimmy!

ThinkGeek's AstroTimmy!

The majority of the afternoon was spent scouting for locations from which to watch the launch. (I bought Causeway tickets from a guy on CraigsList who seemed legit, but he’s either a complete moron, or was indeed a scammer, as he claims he filled out the shipping form wrong, so they couldn’t get to my house before we left, and he supposedly couldn’t get them back to re-send them to my aunt’s either. He *says* he’ll send my money back… I really hope he does… grr.)

We eventually decided on the beach in Cape Canaveral (just down the street from a few of the tweetup houses!) which wouldn’t have quite as good a view as Titusville probably did, but there were already so many people camped out there we knew we’d never get a spot on the bridge for the clear line of site, so we opted for infinitely less crowded, easier access, and a much shorter drive. That settled, we headed over to Cocoa and had dinner with my aunt and uncle.

One Last Launch…

While everyone else started their day before it was actually day time, having to be in their launch viewing locations hours in advance, Dad and I had nowhere to rush to, so I slept until a rather lovely 8:30 or so, got ready and gathered my things at a leisurely pace, and we drove up to the Cape in very minimal traffic, parking at a tweetup house and walking down to the beach around 11.

We deployed chairs, tripodded camera, radio, and even found some open wifi to watch NASAtv, and waited to see if the rather testy weather would permit the launch. Part of me was hoping for a delay, so I could have another day or two to try to get tickets for a closer view. It really didn’t look like the weather was going to cooperate, but at the last minute, the clouds broke up just enough and the wind calmed down just enough, and they decided to go for it! Then, with 31 seconds to go, a surprise hold. For two minutes, I was sure it was going to be a scrub… but then countdown resumed, and 30 seconds later, the Space Shuttle left Earth one last time.

STS-135 launch!

(Darkened and upped the contrast on this one so you can actually make out the shuttle a bit.)

Obviously, we didn’t have nearly as gloriously close a view as I did last time.

Atlantis takes to the skies one last time

Not as good a view as last time

I didn’t want to watch the whole thing through my viewfinder, so my blind-shooting camera didn’t quite keep up…

This is what happens when you don't use the viewfinder.

C'mon camera, keep up!

…but it was awesome, I promise! 😀

Though not as close as I would have liked, our vantage point on the beach did have one advantage – while the clouds again impeded the view from KSC much too quickly, we were far enough away to see her pop out the top and peek-a-boo through the less-dense clouds for almost a minute before she faded into the haze and distance!

Peek-a-boo!

The one advantage to being farther away

*squee!*

She ducked in and out of clouds for a good minute or two

Hard to believe this will never happen again

The pillar of cloud she left behind

Our viewing area

We stopped for coffee and the obligatory RonJon’s visit on the way home, hoping to wait out the traffic (which was decidedly worse than it had been on the way in), but it didn’t really work. At this point I finally realized this trip was the ultimate License Plate Game opportunity, and started playing as we plodded toward “home”. (I got 20some just on that drive, and ultimately hit the mid-40s… probably would have won if I’d started playing on the drive down!)

Between the complete gorgeous epicness of watching a space shuttle launch, and the leftover sleepyness from the previous couple days, the rest of that afternoon didn’t quite stick in my memory, but I’m pretty sure we didn’t really do much anyway. There may have been a dollar store involved.

SpaceTweeps Rock – Part 1

We went out for an earlyish dinner with my aunt and uncle, but I wasn’t really hungry yet, and when we got back to the house, a few of the housemates went out to a post-tweetup dinner. It was kind of awkward initially, as we kind of landed in a booth, from which it was hard to join any of the other conversations, but eventually I got up and “lurked strategically” so as to get absorbed into one conversation or another (my version of “social skills”).

I ended up talking with a lovely table of folks I realized had to be the residents of #NewFrontiersHouse (the arranging of which had been rather an adventure, but came together quite well at the last minute). And then I introduced myself…

Holy wow. Spacetweeps know how to make a girl feel appreciated. I figured some portion of people I’d helped find a place would, upon finding out who I was, thank me, and maybe one or two would offer to buy me a drink… but I never expected them to announce it to the whole group or give me an actual frakking round of applause in the middle of a restaurant! (I also got dinner, a whole lot of raving about how great their house and group turned out, and the offer of a youngest child!) Hehe. After all the drama between that landlord and finding enough people to take a longer rental, I was super glad they were happy with the place, and they did turn out to be an exceptionally fun group!

And now for some fictional spaceship.

Saturday we decided to use my free pass to the KSC Visitor’s Complex from the 134 tweetup, since I hadn’t gotten over there on either of those trips, and we don’t expect to come down a 4th time this year, before it would expire! We had spent a day and a half wandering there when we came on vacation a little over a year ago, so there wasn’t a whole lot we hadn’t seen, but there was a new Star Trek exhibit, and we were hoping to catch one of the “Astronaut Experience”s, which ended up not working timing-wise, but we did get to wander around a bit and check out the Trek stuff!

Enterprise Main Engineering

Main Engineering

Resistance is futile.

Resistance is futile.

Phasers and miscellany

Phasers and miscellany

Enterprise-D Captain's Chair

Captain's chair.

Hmm… don’t actually remember whose spaceship this is. o.0

Hmm... don't actually remember whose spaceship this is. o.0

The panels behind the ship are a timeline… everything from the beginning of the space program through the present to the significant events of every Star Trek show and movie. It was very cool to read, but there was so much (the picture only shows a little more than half the wall of panels!) that I couldn’t get through it all without eating up our whole day… wonder if it’s published on the innertubes somewhere so I can read it sitting down? 😛

DRAGONS!!! Er… just the one.

Next stop, it was back to non-fiction spaceships, stopping at SpaceX to see the Dragon capsule!

SpaceX's Dragon capsule!

Parachute Deployment Sequence

Dragon Info

Re-entry's tough!

The first commercial capsule to return from orbit

SpaceX’s building was right next to the Air Force Space and Missile Museum History Center, so of course we popped in there too, but it’s just one big room with everything on the walls, so it didn’t take long to make the circuit and see what there is to see.

SpaceTweeps Rock – Part 2

From there we headed back to the house, and Dad went off to Tampa to meet up with a boat or two for work, since I was planning on hitching a ride with some housemate or another to #EndlessBBQ and hanging there for the evening… only I somehow missed everyone leaving, and found myself stranded there, a solid half-hour drive from the shindig. I knew there were plenty of people staying reasonably close to where I was, but it turned out everyone had either already left, or had a full car!

After a bit of frantic twittering, looking for anyone who was still heading that way, a couple guys who were already there were actually considering driving all the way down the island and back to pick me up and bring me to the party! Then they decided, “Call a cab, we’ll pay for it.” O.O I figured, what the heck, and went along with this wacky plan.

Turns out, this wacky plan was far from being the wackiest part of this wacky plan… that award goes to the cab driver… I gave him directions to the end of the driveway-road, rather than the actual house, and he still barely found it, and then did not shut up the entire drive. -_- He was nice enough, I guess, but went on and on about every gorram thing, bouncing between very Florida-hick-ish, decidedly creepy, perfectly reasonable, and garden-variety annoying, for 19 slow miles in a minivan that smelt of cigarettes and God-knows-what. But he got me there in one piece, so okay. I was definitely thrilled to scramble out of that car as soon as we pulled into the driveway though!

The fare came to $60some, and I was thinking there were probably like five people in on the plan, intending to chip in a couple bucks, and I was gonna get stuck paying the difference (or feeling really guilty when some poor unwittingly generous soul felt obligated to cover it)… but it turns out, the hatchers of said wacky plan had actually temporarily commandeered the sound system, made an announcement explaining what was up, and then passed a bucket around! They actually collected more than enough to cover the fare and tip the crazy driver! (Who got out and seemed to hang around a while, though I ducked into the crowd as soon as possible so didn’t stay to find out how long.)

There was a pool, live music, and of course plenty of food and beverages, but [besides the top-notch company] the real hit of the party was taking pictures of the moon with our cellphones! (We are space geeks, after all!)

Moon via Cell Phone

Yes, I really did take that picture with my phone… and a little help from @priesett‘s 10-inch-diameter telescope! (Just holding the phone camera over the eyepiece!) That picture’s not even the half of it though – in person, the detail was absolutely incredible. And when pointed at Saturn, you could actually make out the shape of the planet and its rings with that sucker! Crazy awesome. (Now I want one.)

I’m not typically much for big crowded parties, but when it’s a crowd of SpaceTweeps, it’s sure to be a good time! It’s still kind of mind-blowing to me that a crowd of people who, for the most part, I have never met, and many of whom I haven’t even really talked with, would collectively give upwards of $70 just to bring me to a party! But I’m very glad they did! It was a ton of fun!

SRB Retrieval

For those who aren’t NASA geeks: The Space Shuttle consists of an Orbiter (the plane-like ship containing crew and cargo), an orange External Tank, and two white Solid Rocket Boosters. A few minutes after launch, the SRBs are jettisoned and fall back to Earth, and the External Tank does the same once it reaches orbit. The Orbiter, obviously, is the part that stays in space a while, orbiting the planet, and the External Tank burns up in the atmosphere, but the SRBs, since they break off sooner/lower, land in the ocean intact, and a pair of ships, Freedom Star and Liberty Star, find and fetch them to be refurbished and reused.

Of course, these SRBs won’t be recycled for another shuttle launch, but they were retrieved nonetheless. The ships were supposed to be coming back to Port Canaveral sometime Sunday, and we didn’t have to leave until Monday, so we decided to go see them come through the canal! Unfortunately, one got back Sunday morning before we got up, but the other was still expected to get there in the early evening, so my Dad, aunt, uncle, and I went to Fishlips for dinner (which is right on the canal, and we got a table by the window).

Halfway through dinner, my ears catch someone at the table behind me talking about #EndlessBBQ! I turn around and exclaim, “I was there!” and discover it’s @KelleyApril! (Who I hadn’t met in person yet, and was seated so I hadn’t seen the NASA meatball temporary tattoo on her face when we came in, so I didn’t connect the girl eating dinner with her family to the picture on my Twitter feed!) Turns out she had had the same idea, but we eventually heard that the other ship was having engine issues and wouldn’t arrive until late that night, so we had to give up on that.

However, I found out that both ships would be going through the lock the next morning, and I convinced Dad to stop on our way out of town!

SRB retrieval!

Freedom Star

Freedom Star was in the lock when we got there.

Oh look, a Solid Rocket Booster!

We watched them guiding the first SRB out to Liberty Star, which had already passed through the lock.

Taking the first SRB to the awaiting Liberty Star

Freedom Star follows her partner

They went through the lock single file, and once they were through, attached each SRB to the side of one of the ships.

The lock had walkways over the water at all sorts of odd angles, so I ran around taking pictures from different vantage points for a few minutes, and then we left, timing our exit so we would be crossing the one highway bridge just as Liberty Star would be coming out onto that bit of river!

Re-attaching the SRB to Liberty Star

Heading toward KSC

Liberty Star heading for KSC with the VAB in sight!

Bye bye SRB!

Bye bye SRB!

And then the trees invaded my view as we drove away, and 18 hours or so later, we got home. Another lovely sort-of-#NASAtweetup adventure concludes!

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