End of an era in technology (the world’s most awesome tweetup)

STS-135 Last Shuttle Launch

When my friend Trey Ratcliff (he’s a great photographer who builds iPhone/iPad apps, among other things) begged me to come to the Shuttle launch I never imagined I’d be standing on the grass in front of the countdown clock with tears streaming down my face.

So, why was I here? Well, I got a special invite to be part of NASA’s Tweetup.

What was that? NASA invited 150 people to the Kennedy Space Center to get a very intimate look at the operation here. They gave us better access than a lot of the press get and I think I met four astronauts so far. I interviewed one on my iPhone, while standing in front of the Shuttle.

The NASA Tweetup in front of the Space Shuttle

One bit of credit: NASA’s Stephanie Schierholz put on the best Tweetup I’ve ever been a part of. Part of that, for sure, is cause she had so much to work with, but she — and her team — just treated everyone so wonderfully and I was able to watch how hard they worked. They randomly picked most of the participants out of 5,000 applicants (I was one of a handful who were actually invited, I took vacation time to go and didn’t charge Rackspace for anything).

If you get a chance to go on a future NASA Tweetup, go. It is an amazing experience and one where you’ll get to do incredible things.

But, back to the end of an era in technology. After the launch, I interviewed NASA’s Chief Scientist, Waleed Abdalati, about the changes that are happening in NASA now. You can listen to that interview, but what you can’t see is we both had tears in our eyes.

A few people this week have tweeted at me and said “what a waste of money.” Well, sorry, I don’t see it that way. As humans we should always be exploring.

But I am excited that we’re moving toward a more private, and lower-cost, method of taking people into space. I doubt I’ll live long enough to be able to fly affordably into space (maybe) but my kids certainly will. I can’t wait to see the Elon Musks of the world take us into that new world.

That said, this is an end of an era. One that started when we were in a cold-war fight with the Russians. Now our astronauts are forced to fly on Russian spaceships. All around me are evidence of the huge costs that our country took on back in the 1960s to get to the moon. But the Shuttle continued that kind of thinking. Now we’ll have to do space travel for a lot less. For a lot of people who work at Kennedy Space Center that means a lot of disruption.

Anyway, here’s some of my photos from an incredible week in my life (there are more on my Flickr account).

Trey Ratcliff, photographer, in front of Space Shuttle Atlantis

Speaking of photos, I interviewed Trey Ratcliff yesterday. He’s one of my favorite photographers and is a world expert on HDR photography.

I got to meet many of my heroes. Here’s Bob Crippen, who piloted the first Shuttle back in 1981 when I was in High School. He’s juxtaposed by the crew of the last Shuttle Crew getting set in Atlantis.

First and last

The Tweetup participants got to wave to the astronauts as they headed toward the launch pad. This is something I’ve always seen on TV, but here it was in real life in front of me.

Astronauts drive by Tweetup Participants @nasatweetup

Along one side of the press area are small block buildings where the big networks have their setups. Aimed right into the famous countdown clock. Jim Long, NBC Cameraman, invited me in to get a tour. You know him as NewMediaJim on Twitter (he is on the camera crew in the White House).

Newmediajim inside NBC's newsroom

This morning this is the view that greeted me at my parking space. I got emotional. So much of my life has been influenced by the vehicles built inside the Vertical Assembly Building (I got to go inside, something very few people from the public get to do). One of my earliest memories is sitting with my family watching the trip to the moon. That was the beginning of our modern era of space.

Today was the end and, yes, that is sad.