This was the second NASA Social, previously NASA Tweetup, that Aeroseums has attended. It occurred April 19th 2012 in Washington, DC. NASA has stepped up in the last few years their outreach to encourage those interested in all aspects of NASA’s mission to come to events and learn more. For this privilege participants are encouraged to simply communicate their experience on the social networks they use anyway. NASA originally called them NASA Tweetups. They have recently renamed them to NASA Social due to the use of other social media networks such as Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Flickr, etc.
The main draw for this NASA Social was the hand-over of Space Shuttle Discovery to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center and the removal of Space Shuttle Enterprise for its trip to Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York.
We began in the early morning by watching the removal of Space Shuttle Enterprise from the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar. A large quantity of the artifacts that normally were displayed around Enterprise had been moved to the sides of the hangar in order to make room to move the two Shuttles out, then in. This led to a very understandable cluttered look. This was also the first time we could see how many people from the national media outlets would be attending the hand-over. We also got to meet Dr. Valerie Neal, Curator for Space Shuttle Enterprise; she was beyond a wealth of knowledge on all things Enterprise.
After a quick bite to eat and cup of coffee our first round of presenters began. Major General Joe Engle, X-15 Pilot, Shuttle Enterprise Test Pilot, and Commander of the second ever Space Shuttle mission, STS-2 and Discovery on STS-51-I was one of the speakers and what an amazing job he did. We got to ask questions and hear stories about how hard the X-15 was to fly, how close we got to losing the Space Shuttle Enterprise on the first training flight and what it was like during the early days of flying the Shuttle into space.
Outside we went to see the start of the official handover. Before the major event started we got to talk with: NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Space Shuttle Astronaut John Grunsfeld, Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Dr. John Holdren, and Space Shuttle Astronaut Captain Christopher Ferguson.
Then the official handover ceremony started with the towing of Discovery into a nose-to-nose position with Enterprise. Speeches from dignitaries such as Senator John Glenn, Gen. J. R. “Jack” Dailey, Director of National Air and Space Museum (NASM), Secretary of NASM, Dr. Wayne Clough, and others. After the speeches we got to get closer to the two shuttles, take personal photos and our group photo was taken.
Back inside for a quick lunch then more personal interaction with Stephanie Stilson Space Shuttle retirement manager where we got to hear what it was like to wind down the Shuttle program and get Discovery ready for display. You really could tell she knew an amazing amount about Discovery and really put her heart into the job.
We also got to talk with Gen. J. R. “Jack” Dailey (director of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum), Astronaut Don Williams, NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Associate Director for Collections & Curatorial Affairs Dr. Peter Jakab, NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for Public Outreach Alan Ladwig. This simply put was an amazing set of people to talk with.
As we then moved to watch Discovery take its place in America’s Hanagar, we talked with former Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird pilot Phil Soucy in front of the SR-71 Blackbird.
We had to jockey for position with local and national media to get the best views of Discovery as the tug driver did his work along with a team helping make sure Discovery ended up in the right place. Once Discovery was home the NASA Social was official over. We roamed around the museum for about an hour and then headed out with a large group of attendees to invade and take over a large section of a restaurant. I am not sure they were thrilled when we called for a reservation for 40+ people but they did well.
My over-all impression was simply WOW.
What an amazing event to be a part of.