Monday, July 11, 2011

You Remind Me of Me

This is the title of a book that has nothing to do with spaceflight. But I kept thinking of this phrase the two days I was in Florida to witness the historic last launch of the space shuttle. As always, my visit was fascinating in terms of the space-related wonders I witnessed, and even more gratifying in terms of the people I met there and the deep connections between people and the space program.

As I made my way around the Space Coast Friday and Saturday, both at the actual launch and at events around it, I kept seeing people who looked weirdly familiar to me. Did I go to grad school with that guy? Was that woman in dorm at college? Is that the friend of a friend? I kept finding myself squinting into people's faces, trying to make a connection that was never there. (Okay, in one case it turned out I was squinting at Seth Green, who looked so familiar because I recently watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer in its entirety, and in another it turned out to be John Oliver of BOTH The Daily Show and Community. So... that was awesome).

But generally, my TV watching could not account for the strange sense that everyone was someone I already kind of knew. After I while I realized what it was. I had something important in common with just about every person there. We may be different ages, genders, and ethnic backgrounds, and we may come at this interest from entirely different directions, but we all care enough about the space shuttle to want to be there to say goodbye.

This time I got press credentials and so was able to see the launch from the press site for the first time, which was a significantly different experience from seeing it from other vantage points. Part of the press site experience included getting to know the #NASATweetup people-- a lucky bunch of 150 so-and-so's chosen by NASA "at random" to get unprecedented behind-the-scenes access to the Kennedy Space Center and the launch. One of those people chosen "at random" was my friend Stu, and by being sort of vaguely at his elbow I was able to sneak into the #NASATweetup tent (I refuse to call this structure the "Twent," as some of them insisted upon doing). The Tweety People (as I, in turn, annoyed everyone by insisting upon calling them) were simply a solid group of individuals-- smart, friendly and funny, space fans to the core, and honestly exactly the 150 people I would have chosen had NASA asked me to choose 150 people "at random." I'm lucky to have met as many of them as I did.

I will write in more detail about the launch itself, and the exciting saga of how I lost my press badge and got it back thanks to a standup character from the electricians' union-- but for now I will leave you with an image Stu took of me with my mouth hanging open like an idiot.

Godspeed Atlantis!