Santa Barbara resident Chad Catacchio will join 150 of NASA’s lucky Twitter followers—randomly selected from some 6,000 applicants—to go behind-the-scenes at NASA and witness the last launch of the space shuttle Atlantis on July 8 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA, which hosted its first “Tweetup” (a mashing of the verb “to Tweet” and the phrase “meet up”) in 2009, will give @NASA followers a chance to tour the center, watch the shuttle launch, and speak with NASA staff.
Catacchio, a tech writer and the social media guy at Answer Financial Inc., answered some questions about his upcoming trip to Florida.
When and how did you hear about NASA Tweetups?
I have a few friends who’ve gone to previous ones, and I also do some volunteer work with people at NASA here on the West Coast. My friends who have gone said it was a lot of fun. This being the last one, I just submitted my name, and got in.
How did you get interested in NASA and space exploration?
I watched Space Camp just like everybody else (laughs). And I grew up in the ‘80s, so when the Challenger tragedy happened, I think I was about 10 years old. I remember writing a letter to Ronald Reagan—and I actually got a letter back from the Office of the President, saying thank you. Also, my father’s company provided the valves that feed the water underneath the launch pad, so my dad went out and worked on the launch pad a little.
What happens when you get to Florida? What kind of events will you be attending and what kind of people will you be meeting?
Just to be clear, NASA doesn’t pay for any of this. Everybody who goes pays their own way—flights, hotels, everything. The launch is at 8 a.m. Regardless if the launch goes on time, we’ll be at the center for two days. We get tours of the Space Center, we get to meet some astronauts, we get to meet administration. Because this is the last launch ever, it’s going to be a circus. Every major news organization on the planet is going to be there. And then there’s scientists, teachers, social media, and just pure NASA fans. And we’re all preparing online—we have a Facebook group where 150 people are talking and organizing. We’re splitting it up in 10 or 15 houses, and renting houses for the week
Besides these Tweetups, NASA does a lot of live streaming of meteor showers, space launches, etc. What strikes you about the way NASA has embraced the Web for public outreach?
They really were the pioneer at the federal level. And not just how they connect with people, but their Twitter account has well over half a million followers—all the astronauts have a Twitter account. But also the way that they’ve opened up their data sets. They offer a lot of data to people for organizations to use, they interact, they’ve got a great iPad app … and they’ve done these NASA tweetups. They’ve really been inviting people to share what they’re doing, and they’re sharing what they’re doing with people who aren’t in the government or the press. I think it has been a very good way for them to continue to show their value, as the times have changed.
How does it make you feel that this will be the final launch of the shuttle before the program is retired?
I mean I think it’s time we stop sending them up—they’re really old. Every time [the astronauts] go up, they’re putting a lot on the line. They’re doing great things, but we need a new fleet. Space exploration is changed. There’ll be a lot of emotion—I mean, the space shuttle is kind of the culmination of America. It’s probably one of the defining technological accomplishments of the entire country. No one in the country has built anything like the space shuttle. It’ll be sad, but we’ll see if they build any cooler shit.
To find out more about NASA tweetups, go to here.