Some time ago I saw a notice on a mailing list about something called a “NASA Social,” which is an opportunity for people who follow NASA on social media to attend a NASA event and meet each other in person. In this case the event was the January 23 launch of the TDRS-L satellite from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. But you can’t just show up — you need to put your name in a hat and hope it gets drawn. I had never considered attending one of these before, but this one didn’t conflict with anything that couldn’t be rescheduled, so I submitted my name through a web page and then forgot all about it.
But then last week I got an email from NASA: I was one of 50 applicants randomly selected to attend the launch! I have to pay for my own transportation, food, and lodging, but… rocket launch! So I’m going!
In addition to the launch itself (assuming everything goes as planned), which will be a night launch and therefore spectacular, there will be a whole day of meet-and-greet with NASA scientists and engineers, a behind-the-scenes tour of the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral, and hanging out with other space geeks. I’m jazzed.
The TDRS system (it’s pronounced “teedris” and stands for Tracking and Data Relay Satellites) is a network of geosynchronous satellites which provide nearly continuous high-bandwidth communication with spacecraft in Low Earth Orbit, including the Hubble Space Telescope and International Space Station, and TDRS-L will be the 12th one launched (hence the letter L). Space geeks of a certain age (or who have seen The Dish) may remember that in the early days of the Space Age contact with orbiting spacecraft was intermittent and was available only when the spacecraft was over a ground-based relay station; the TDRS satellites and associated ground stations make this problem a thing of the past, so this launch is important because it provides support for a whole bunch of present and future space development.
You can expect serious tweetage and bloggination from the event.