MarsRoadtrip Part 1: Mars or Bust!

Two tweetups in one week? Yes please! 😀

Okay, so technically one was a “Social” – NASA decided to start letting Facebook and Google+ followers in on the #NASAtweetup awesomeness, so they changed the name to #NASASocial – but Canada’s was still #CSAtweetup!

Two days after Thanksgiving, NASA launched the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) “Curiosity” rover on an 8.5 month journey to our dusty red neighbor – a journey we knew would end, one way or the other, around quarter after 1am (EDT) Sunday night/Monday morning. In June, as we spacetweeps suspected/hoped, they announced there would be a NASAsocial for the Mars landing, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California (where Curiosity was built)! I registered, of course, but didn’t get selected.

I don’t know if it was the plan all along, or if they were just overwhelmed by the response, but a couple days later they added 5 more NASAsocials, all at the same time (Friday, August 3rd) at different NASA centers! (The first multi-center NASAsocial!) Soon, the Canadian Space Agency announced they’d have a tweetup too, during the landing and the following day.

I, of course, registered for everything, figuring I’d probably worn out my welcome/luck by now and wouldn’t get in to any official events, but was fine too since there were epic #RogueTweetup plans in the works…

But then I got one of those lovely confirmation notices… from Canada! So the question was if I could get my passport renewed in time! …and then, I got ANOTHER confirmation notice, this one from NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Ohio!

Cue a moment of panic as I tried to decide which I’d rather go to – be part of the first multi-center social, or be in a space agency for the landing itself? (Surely I couldn’t go to both… two tweetups for the same landing?!)

But then the “Why the heck not?!” sector of my brain kicked in with the realization that this wasn’t exactly trying to be in two places at once (there’s a whole Saturday in between!), and neither NASA nor CSA had said anything to the contrary, so theoretically, I could do both… It was just a matter of sorting the logistics.

Sorting the logistics

I looked at flights, but then remembered I’m not quite old enough to make rental cars a viable option, and the thought of trying to mooch rides between airports and hotels and space centers in two different cities (countries!) when I wasn’t sure who I’d know where, plus getting home from the Philly airport at the end (since my family’d be on vacation by the time I got back)… well, it sounded like it would be less exhausting/stressful to just drive!

A quick consultation with the GoogleyMaps confirmed each leg of the journey would be a full-but-reasonable-day’s drive (about 8/10/8 hours, respectively), and I like driving and traveling alone… plus, I mean, what’s the difference between my typical work day, in which I spend 8 or 9 hours sitting in a chair staring at a screen, and spending those hours sitting in my car staring out the windshield?!

So I declared it a plan, and surprisingly, though they didn’t see the appeal, neither parent tried very hard to dissuade me. My dad informed me that my uncle’s house is within a reasonable commute to NASA Glenn, so I called him up and made plans to crash there for the first stop, and thanks to recommendations from CSAtweetup’s lovely organizer, Magalie, I found a nice and very reasonably priced hotel near CSA HQ, so I had the “somewhere to sleep” thing covered.

The only other question mark in this nutty plan was whether I could get my passport renewed in time for Canada to let me in at all, much less to a secure government building… an extra $60 and applying in person will get you a passport pretty quickly, but the earliest available appointment was Monday morning the week I’d be leaving, so I was a bit nervous, but it turns out, the Philadelphia Passport Agency is seriously on their game!

I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to get there, park, find it, and get through security, so I left plenty of cushion time… and ended up arriving at 9:05, when my appointment wasn’t until 10. Despite warnings that they wouldn’t let you in more than 15 minutes early, and you could be waiting several hours regardless of your appointment time, they let me in right away, checked to make sure I had everything I needed and gave me a number, I waited about half an hour, had my “appointment” (through a bullet-proof ticket window), and was walking back to my car before my scheduled appointment time, assured my passport would be ready to pick up on Wednesday morning! (which it was, and the return visit took all of 3 minutes.) Solidly impressive for government bureaucracy!

Passport in hand, I *finally* felt free to get excited! I loaded up the iThing with music and audiobooks, threw some clothes and my toothbrush in the car, and roadtripped the heck out of Thursday!

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