"Social media platforms enable us to bring the public along on our missions not just as spectators but as fellow crew members."
- Ron Garan
Fellow crew members?!? Eyes lit up all around me, big smiles, even some cheers. NASA Astronaut Ron Garan (@Astro_Ron) was speaking to a select group of NASA's (@NASA) Twitter followers at one of NASA's famous Tweetups. Referring to us as virtual crew members let us know he "gets it."
NASA "gets" social media. In fact,
NASA masters social media.
" It was nice to send down (via twitter) pictures from space and get your feed back on those pictures." - Ron GaranCommunicating with the public has always been important to NASA.......
They've always had an award-winning website and have been highly innovative with their social media presence, balancing several official NASA accounts spread over many platforms with the photo of the day being the only thing automated.
Garan told us he wanted to be an astronaut since the age of 7 when he saw the black and white image of man's first footsteps on the moon. He fondly describes his back on the floor, feet up on the bed, playing as an astronaut and doing the countdown. When he was in high school, he lost that dream during NASA's quiet period after the sky lab and before the space shuttle. "Why would anyone want to be an astronaut," he smiled, "when there is no space program?" I cringed at this, thinking about the recent retirement of the shuttle program, which, Garan insists, was not the end of something, but the beginning of something else.
Garan's dream to be an astronaut re-awakened during his math and science classes in college. He stresses the great need NASA has for students to study math, science and engineering. Garan joined the military as a fighter pilot and later, a test pilot. He was chosen as a pilot astronaut with NASA and has traveled to the ISS as a mission specialist on two different occasions. He has logged more than 178 days in space and 27 hours and 3 minutes of EVA in four spacewalks.
"My first time in space," Garan told us, "I visited space. My second time, I lived in it. Totally different. When in space for months on end, you watch the earth transform. You see icebergs, ice breaking up, you see a living organism that is earth. You can't get that from a short flight." The ISS rapidly became home for him. It's too big to get claustrophobic. "You can almost get lost.....
The ISS is an amazing accomplishment of humanity, it was a wonderful experience to live and work on it. It is awe inspiring as you approach it from the shuttle or from a spacewalk."
Someone near me asked Garan what he loves most about being an astronaut. "Right now, being able to share the amazing stuff that we do in space. Some of the most incredible stuff that we do as humanity is to step off our planet, explore and look back at ourselves and the earth, to learn more about who we are." With a fake-humble shrug, he added:
"Flying in space is pretty cool though, too."
While on the ISS, Garan and friends made a video. Approximately two weeks before their scheduled trip back to earth, they received news that they'd have to stay up there another two months. They felt as though they had been sprinting to the finish line and then the finish line moved. It was big news that didn't just affect them, it also affected the people on the ground: canceling vacations, support crew, families, etc. So they made a video, The ISS Blues, to show solidarity, how they are "all in this together." (It turned out they only stayed one more week.) At the tweetup, we got to watch the sequel to that video. I love watching them have fun in space.
Garan says he easily adjusted to life back on earth, almost as though his "brain instantly reset 'control/alt/delete.'" Although he does describe a t-shirt feeling like it was made of lead. Besides gravity, he acknowledges the 3Gs in the shuttle feels like an elephant on your chest.
"When you're in space that long, you start to miss the things that define the beauty of living on our planet. You realize you took it for granted. But now I miss the things that define the beauty of living in space. The exquisite beauty of our planet, looking down on thunderstorms, the horizon as the sun is setting -- shadows -- pink and then darker, watching lightning storms."
Stephanie Schierholz (@Schierholz) was the Social Media Manager for NASA from its inception and through both of my NASA Tweetups. Pictured above is a special presentation that followed our Tweetup to honor Stephanie three days before she was to leave NASA and go back into the private sector. It is largely through her herculean efforts that NASA is a leader in the innovative use of social media.
With the departure of Stephanie, NASA has renamed their Tweetups as "Socials," so as to include all forms of social media. To find out more about a NASA Social near you, go to the NASA Connect and Collaborate page.
Check out my previous post: Ron Garan vividly describes re-entry on the Soyuz.
What's a NASA Tweetup?
My Real Name? And Other Marvelous Nuances of a Tweetup
Busbee Elementary School Presents Questions for the NASA Tweetup