We were greeted with nametags, coffee, and an hour or so to explore the Visitor Center before it was open to the public. It was very nice to see the exhibits without the noise of crowds and enthusiastic children (although I think all of us at the Tweetup were just as, if not more, enthusiastic about this than all the children!) ... after the initial free-time we all gathered in the auditorium for some briefings. These, mind you, are not your typical boring briefings. We were treated to a backdrop of the live EVA going on up on the ISS and talks from astronauts Ellen Ochoa & Jeff Williams as well as a very in-depth break-down about the new Ku-band communications antenna that was being installed by the EVA in the background. All of these "briefings" were very much audience focused and the majority of the time was spent on Q&A rather than just being talked at. I think we all thoroughly enjoyed Jeff Williams (@Astro_Jeff) describing the differences in launch and landing in the Soyuz versus the Shuttle, just how excited all the astronauts are that they now have internet up on the Space Station, and their new exercise equipment up on the ISS.
We then had time for a quick lunch in the VC cafeteria and then broke our 100 person group into two to start the tour. This was, mind you, not the typical tour you get when you visit JSC! We first headed over to Mission Control ... yes, THE MCC which was currently running STS-132. We got to sit in the gallery and watch them finish up the EVA and have Ed Van Cise (@Carbon_Flight), a Flight Director for the ISS, speak to us.
If this wasnt enough, we then made our way through the labyrinth that is Building 30 down to the historic Apollo Mission Control. Why Annie, you might say, the Apollo Mission Control is on the regular tour. Well, yes, and no. Normally you get to go to the gallery for the Apollo MC and just look in the room, we got to go in the room, press buttons, sit in the Flight Director's chair and wave back at the people on the "regular tour" in the gallery. It was fantastic!
This day couldnt get any better, right? .... WRONG! Where we headed to next was the place I have been wanting to see for years and was the most excited about (although MCC was pretty darn neat!) ... The Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL)! Thats right, the ridiculously giant, perfectly clear swimming pool with life-size shuttle cargo bays and the ISS in parts in it so astronauts can train on them. To make it even better, there were multiple astronauts in the pool (each with 4 safety divers) training when we were there. This massive training facility is beyond description. The only thing that would have made it better was to have been able to go diving in the pool, but alas, only NASA-certified divers are allowed.
By this point, I am beyond a happy camper. But we are still not done with the tour! We next head over to the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility (SVMF) to see the shuttle, Soyuz, and ISS trainers. We, of course, get an astronaut tour-guide, Dave Leestma, and also get to see STS-133 crew as they practice their post-liftoff suiting procedures. In this building they also have the new Lunar Electric Rovers, and some other robotic prototypes for future space operations. All very neat to see.
We then capped off the day with a visit to the Rocket Park and the Saturn V rocket, which I have seen many times but am still impressed by its size every time I do.
My overall impressions for the day ... WOW ... oh and never did I think that Twitter would be so useful. Getting to watch Mission Control run a shuttle flight, see astronauts train in the NBL, chat with multiple astronauts, and everything else we did were just amazing. Thank you Johnson Space Center and NASA for the behind-the-scenes look at everything. As someone described during the day, it was like having the golden ticket to get a special tour of the Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. It was a fantastic day and I really hope that we are fortunate to do another Tweetup with you in the future (preferably to a shuttle launch, hint hint)
Click on any photos here to see them larger or if you want to see all of my photos from the day, they are located here: STS-132 Tweetup Photos