I had the fantastic opportunity to attend #NASASocial at the NASA Goddard location in Greenbelt, Maryland. I had been to Baltimore once prior but for a very short time. I was so excited to see the greenery Maryland is known for. I had never been to a NASA location before this trip and had no idea what to expect. I was accepted to attend another #NASASocial in the past but had to cancel due to a family emergency.
When I arrived at NASA Goddard I was immediately greeted by Patrick. He works in Earth Sciences and was helping with the #NASASocial tour. A crowd had already formed of about thirty or so other attendees.
People quickly ran up and began to chat. Myself and a few others began to have a crowd of new friends, as we exchanged names, handshakes, and business cards. A couple people did know who I was! Which was way too cool.
We jumped on a bus with our credentials and had to be rechecked at the gate. We went through and the buildings reminded me of a college campus. Lots of trees, buildings spread out, It was early November so the campus looked gorgeous with trees filled with dozens of colors. Being from the desert, the morning of my tour, due to my extreme tiredness, was a bit focused on the foliage.
I made some silly videos of every thing we passed on the bus yelling that it was ‘top secret’ and the joke continued through-out the day. People thought I was being serious every now and then but realized I’m just a bit quirky not too long after.
We all walked out of the bus and joined a circle in the middle of a building that wasn’t explained. We just knew it was a NASA building, and that’s all that matters on he first stop of a tour like this. We went around the room and said our name, social media site or job that brought us here. I felt at first completely over my head when I mentioned badsciencejokes and others mentioned their far “sciencey-er” credentials. That feeling didn’t last too long in all honesty.
I started with a presentation of what ICESAT-2 does and how it can work to measure trees and ice thickness. Attendees got to stand under the ‘satellite’ and get their heights measured. Upstairs we heard from a climate scientist who explained the changing landscapes of the ice caps. He explained the purpose of our satellites and how the lasers will give us information on the ice itself. He explained a bit about rising sea levels and the cities that would leave this world if it is to rise to a certain height. Unfortunately, while I live-streamed these talks, they did not save to my phone and I could not reshare or save the footage.
We went to see the outside of the clean room where they worked on the satellites. Splitting into groups to see the most possible without being crowded with all 40 some odd attendees of the social event. We had extra time after the second presentation so we were guided to the ‘audio chamber’ where they put spacecrafts into a sealed vault and blow sound waves onto it to see if there are loose bolts or if it could make it out of the atmosphere. The attendees really seemed to enjoy this room, from their smiles and the amount of selfies taken, I can make that hypothesis.
We had lunch of sandwiches from Subway and got time to check out the gift shop. A few scientists stopped by and sat along side people and chatted while they ate. And others spent way too much money in the gift shop-myself included.
From lunch we went along to see more areas that work along side or on the ICESAT-2 or worked on the first model. We saw some researchers working on small trinkets and others trying to join the tour with us.
By this time we were supposedly ahead of schedule and we were taken to the Hubble wing. We saw mission control and the rooms where scientists from all over can schedule time with Hubble. Lots of photos from Hubble hung in the hallways. It was fantastic to see all the amazing work Hubble has done, and a beautiful model on display in the main room. I have my suspicion this wasn’t “random” but I liked the surprise nonetheless. It was a fantastic thing to see. The pictures Hubble took of all these galaxies just show how small we are. It was an interesting feeling to feel so small.
We walked around the corner to an adjacent building and we started our laser talks. We saw a demonstration of a laser transmitting text information from one computer to the other. The attendees typed something on one computer and it appeared on the parallel computer in seconds. Showing on a small scale what lasers can do. It was also a chance for the attendees to try out virtual reality headsets. I couldn’t due to motion sickness but the attendees looked like they had a blast! The bus then took us over to the robotic section of our trip. The scientist explained how you must practice on the ground before sending anything up to space to make sure you prepare for every single possibility. He explained how hard it is to fix things in space, so their team is working to make everything as perfect as possible for it’s flight.
We went back to the visitors center for dinner by this time and gave us a shot to see the other gift shop. I took tons of pictures in the ‘rocket garden’, where there are rockets all over the lawn (almost self explanatory.). Dinner was another chance to network and socialize with scientists or other social media icons.
After dinner we all drove over to the laser range. It was dark and iPhone flashlights guided our way. We talked about the programming and telescopes NASA Goddard has and then we hit the main attraction. A green laser was shot out to the sky at certain satellites orbiting the earth. One researcher would exclaim what satellite it was targeting and the laser would shoot its beam to the sky. These lasers can determine how far away the satellites are. The laser moved just slightly so you almost couldn’t tell it moved, until you blinked a few times and noticed your neck angled in a different direction to see the laser. Everyone stood around and cheered at the first shot of the laser into the night sky. I sat down and laid in the grass and just enjoyed the light show. A few people laughed at me but then joined me on the grass. All we had learned wrapped so tight in a bow of green lines. Fascinating to think I had seen all of this, depressing to think I won’t see it again. So I laid in the grass and soaked it all in.
For the event, I was broadcasting the lectures live on instagram. About 10k people viewed while the videos were live. I knew no matter how hard I tried I would never be able to replicate their words. No amount of dictating could keep up with their immense knowledge on their respective subjects. As my goal is to teach in a way of Laymen’s Terms that anyone can easily understand but in all my honesty, even I couldn’t keep up at all times. I mentioned that to a few attendees and they agreed. We discussed how it probably is impossible to fully understand unless you are working in this field day to day. Some of the researchers we met even mentioned this when someone asked a question about a previous exhibit.
I was a bit surprised by some of the attendees. I understand the want to reach people other than those typically following NASA verified pages, but the idea of art accounts and personal pages being chose confused me. I’m not one to judge I just figured for a #NASASocial it would be entirely fairly popular semi-science related accounts. So, don’t be afraid to apply to a #NASASocial even if you aren’t a science page. I met so many amazing people who came from all walks of internet life.
#NASASocial will easily go down in the list of best things I ever did. Not only was this my first vacation alone, but I got to see things that most of the world never gets a chance to see. If I am in the position of being able to share these stories to millions then I will. If I can extend science to everyone in an easy-to-understand format and share these lectures with those who can follow them, I will. I can only dream of going back or to a #NASASocial in the future.
Although, I do understand the new dream in my heart. One day I hope to be able to join the NASA social media team. I know I could be a great personality for the #NASASocial events and I believe my social media accounts speak for themselves. Maybe one day I’ll have the opportunity to give more to my country and to the world in science.