Have you ever gone into something not exactly sure what you are in for? Yeah, that was me this weekend for the Year of Aviation #SCTweetUP. A TweetUp is when a group of people on social media meet in real life to share some sort of experience. The Space Camp TweetUp is an annual event, with different themes each year, where social media using people get together in Huntsville, AL on the Space Camp campus to get excited about the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, Space Camp, and their programs and exhibits. This year is the Year of Aviation for the Rocket Center and Space Camp, so the #SCTweetUp was all about learning about what it’s like to be in Aviation Challenge camp. I learned so much during such a short amount of time, and wow, did I have a lot of fun!
Being a Geek, sometimes, who am I kidding, often, I am awkward in a crowd of people I don’t know. I also dress like I’m a 14 year old boy more often than not, so that generally doesn’t go over too well. Going into a new group, I never know what to expect, but the amazing thing about social media is meeting and getting to know people before you meet them face to face. When I got the email letting me know that I had been selected for the 2014 Space Camp TweetUp, I immediately went online to see who else would be joining me in Huntsville. After a few days, there was a Facebook group set up, and we started getting to know each other and planning to hang out after our day of adventure. It definitely made the fun start even before I left Atlanta.
The morning of the TweetUp, I wanted to get there to look around a little early. I have never been to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, and that’s where all Space Camp activities, including ours, are held. Many more planes like this amazing one greeted me as I walked onto the Aviation Challenge campus, and I knew this was going to be a great day!
We had introductions to each other, our organizers, Charity and Trevor, and our team leaders, Clover and Wi-fi. Our team, the Jolly Tweeters, ended up being like the Breakfast Club…the Geek (me), the Weather-spotter, the Triathlete, the DJ, the Photographer, the TV Anchor, the Quiet One, the Intern, the Non-Twitter-er, the Retiree, and the Pixel Creator. We all had two things in common; we all love Space, and we were all there to have fun!
We started our day with a tour of some of the planes on the campus. We got to stand on the the wing of an F4 Phantom. It is quite a bit sturdier than most people imagine. It was able to support our whole team standing on just the wing. We were able to hear from Gail Williams, one of the former pilots and current restorers of the Lamplighter 342 helicopter that is currently on the Aviation Challenge campus. He and his fellow restorers have hand re-painted the helicopter with the original paint from the original manufacturer. Gail has also hand curved Lexan with a heat gun to replace the windows (one shown in the pic below) in the Lamplighter. It’s a true project of love and respect with the formers pilots and this aircraft. Gail was incredibly generous to let us all climb up into the helicopter to press buttons, pedals, and flip switches. It was a lot of fun!
Then we heard from my new hero, Serena Aunon. I’m not sure that it’s really fair that the first astronaut that I ever meet is Serena. She’s an engineer, physician, and astronaut. She was so great to answer all of our questions. As you can imagine, she is a Women in STEM champion, and I asked her what her advice was for young girls wanting to get into STEM fields. She said that parents should expose their littles early and often to STEM fields in the form of museums and camps, particularly with hands on activities.
I also asked her about what she would say to university aged female students wanting to give up STEM fields as the classes become increasingly difficult. She told us the story of her father insisting that she re-take Calculus as a freshman even though she took it and did well in it during her Senior year in high school. She said that, though it frustrated her then, it was some of the best advice she ever got. It gave her a very solid and strong foundation in math which she needed to get through her electrical engineering degree. She also told us that she utilized tutors and other resources while she was in college. Serena also told us about the nutrition and exercise regimens on the International Space Station. She also let us know that when the ISS astronauts phone their families or NASA back here on Earth, the caller ID registers with a Huntsville phone number. Serena also showed us samples of some of the kinds of food that the astronauts eat on the ISS. All of the food is labeled in both English and Russian. Who knew the most coveted food on the ISS is…wait for it…tortillas and hot sauce? After meeting Serena, we all hung out and ate lunch. We already had so much fun, and the day was only half way done. Make sure to read the next post about our very adventurous afternoon!