On Friday, April 12, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center hosted sixty social media followers for a special behind-the-scenes #NASAsocial to learn more about the joint Global Precipitation Mission (GPM) between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). I was lucky enough to be one of the sixty people to attend this event, my second social media gathering with NASA.
I should note, though, that I’m writing this recap almost a week after my return. Two days after I got home to Massachusetts, two bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. It’s been an insane, emotional several days for anyone with a connection to the city; I just wasn’t in the mood to write.
So as I write this recap, my current perspective is very different from what it was on April 12. I still believe that passionate people can do amazing things and the good people at NASA are proving that everyday. But passionate people can also lose their way, to the detriment of many innocent people. My thoughts are with the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.
And now, on with the recap …
We began the morning of our #NASAsocial by meeting at the Goddard Space Flight Center visitor’s center in Greenbelt, Maryland. I had never been to Goddard and was really excited to see the facility. So excited, in fact, that I drove past the entrance for the visitor’s center and right up to the guard shack for the employee entrance. Typical me.
One u-turn later, I was on the right path. Yet again, I was so excited to be there that I drove past the visitor’s center parking lot entrance and around the oval in front of the building instead. Typical me, again. Okay, are we there yet?
8:15 a.m.: The car is parked and I’m in the visitor’s center. It’s raining and everyone is a bit soggy. Aries Keck, our NASA Goddard organizer (yes, that is her real name and, yes, she is an Aries), begins check-in. We’re split into four color-coded groups for our tours later in the day. We are encouraged to explore the exhibits in the visitor’s center or go see the adjacent gift shop while we wait for everyone to arrive.
9:00 a.m.: We get on the bus. The driver inexplicably drives around the oval three times, thus passing the exit the same number of times. Now I don’t feel so bad from my own roundabout adventure earlier this morning. Then he stops and asks for directions at the guard shack. Finally, we head to Goddard Building 3 auditorium where we will hear from NASA and JAXA representatives and learn about the GPM mission.
We get settled in the auditorium and the round of introductions begin. There are many, many impressive people at this event. Many people are locals from DC and Maryland, but others have come from Ohio, Oklahoma, and southern Louisiana. During my turn at the microphone, I forget to say my Twitter handle (@TenPixels) but I do remember to thank the sound guy.
10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.: We hear from six presenters, all of whom are nothing short of amazingly smart. (Of course they are smart. They work for NASA or JAXA.)
The list of presenters are:
- Ramesh Kakar, NASA Earth Science Division Representative
- Gail Skofronick-Jackson, NASA GPm Deputy Project Scientist
- Riko Oki, JAXA TRMM/GPM Program Scientist
- Ardeshir “Art” Azarbarzin, NASA GPM Project Manager
- Masahiro Kojima, JAXA GPM/DPR Project Manager
- Peter Hildebrand, Director of NASA Goddard Earth Sciences Division
You can watch their presentations here on NASA TV’s YouTube channel.
Noonish: Our groups are split in two – one group heads to lunch and the other heads to see NASA’s Hyperwall, a massive high resolution display for data visualization. Compton Tucker of NASA Goddard’s Earth Sciences division showed us some amazing images, including the one below.
We also looked at ice flows in Antarctica and Dawn Myers, NASA Goddard Solar Science Instrument Specialist, showed us the many ways NASA looks at data from the sun.
2:00 p.m. until the end of the day: After lunch, it’s time for the tours. Some highlights of the tour include:
- Holding a piece of a 4.6 billion year old meteorite (photo below) and an iron meteorite dating back to the 1500s in NASA’s Astrobiology Lab
- Seeing Goddard’s Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office, packed with robotics, to learn about the Robotic Refueling Mission, which aims to refuel satellites while in orbit
- Learning about the James Webb Space Telescope, which is being assembled in the largest clean room in the world
My group’s last stop on the tour was to Goddard’s Building 7, where equipment headed for space is tested. The main goal is to expose the equipment to the stresses and rigors of space so that it doesn’t break once it gets there. Simple, but true.
In Building 7, equipment will go through the following testing:
- Weeks in the “chamber of horrors,” also known as the three-story tall thermal vacuum chamber, where exposure to liquid nitrogen and hydrogen mimic the cold temperatures in space
- A spin in a centrifuge that imparts 30Gs and goes up to 250 miles per hour
- A round (or two) in this acoustical chamber where sound pressure levels reach 150 dBs, or the equivalent of 10,000 jackhammers going at once
Overall, it was an amazing but exhausting day. The people of NASA Goddard are so wonderful to open their doors to us and allow us in their lives for a day. Are you interested in learning more about #NASAsocial and how to attend one? See the link to NASA’s page below.