On 18 September, the German Aerospace Centre (DLR, @dlr_en) and the European Space Agency (ESA, @esa) invited 60 lucky Twitter followers to the first European SpaceTweetup. Among them some of our most prominent members, @flyingjenny, @herrea, @CraftLass, @travelholic, @amoroso, @marcozambi, @SpaceKate, @DrLucyRogers and @rocketman528. I (@akanel) was also lucky to be invited – and this was my first Tweetup ever!
The SpaceTweetup took place on German Aerospace Day at the joint DLR and European Astronaut Centre site in Cologne. It was an amazing day, which not even the German grey and rainy weather could spoil! …it did, of course, make our photographs a bit murky, but that’s about it!
The SpaceTweetup program was full and exciting. So many thrills packed inside approx. 10 hours that could have easily been the object of two or more separate events. For those who didn’t get to attend, a four hour (!) long selection of the best moments is available on ESA’s site.
The day started very excitingly. We visited and learned about the SOFIΑ Project (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy), DLR and NASA’s impressive airborne telescope. Mounted on a Boeing 747SP aircraft modified by L-3 Communications Integrated Systems, SOFIA has a 2.5 meter reflecting telescope, which makes measurements during flight! High above the disturbances caused by Earth’s atmosphere, but also easily accessible for maintenance and modifications, SOFIA combines the advantages of space telescopes, like Herschel and Hubble, with the ease of ground based telescopes.
The science done on SOFIA is planned by the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) and the Deutsches SOFIA Institut (DSI) under the leadership of NASA Ames Research Centre. Observing mostly in the far infrared, SOFIA will be used to study many different kinds of astronomical objects and phenomena, such as e.g. star birth and death, formation of new solar systems, identification of complex molecules in space (such as organic materials necessary for life), planets, comets and asteroids in our own solar system, nebulae and dust in galaxies and black holes at the centre of galaxies, helping to answer many fundamental questions about the creation and evolution of the Universe.
SpaceTweetup participants had the amazing opportunity to meet 10 ESA and NASA astronauts up close!! I bet so many astros gathered at the same time in one place can’t be found even in Houston!
The ISS-Exp 26/27 Crew (MagISStra), NASA’s Cady Coleman (@astro_cady), who returned after an 159 day stay in space, and ESA’s Paolo Nespoli (@astro_paolo), one of the best photographers in the …Galaxy (!), talked to us about life on the International Space Station (ISS).
Cady and Paolo explained some of the science experiments that are being done on the ISS, now that its construction is complete. It’s amazing how many things we are learning though experiments in zero-gravity conditions!! Did you know that spiders can only make two-dimensional webs in space?! Or that if you close your eyes and try to draw a cube while you are in space, you will always draw rectangular cuboids?! We don’t know why these things happen. But we are learning so much for the human physiology through these experiments. For example, due to the loss of bone tissue that occurs during the astronauts’ stay in zero-gravity conditions, there has been significant progress in medicine for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis.
Later on, Greg Johnson (@astro_box), Mike Fincke (@astroironmike), Drew Feustel and Greg Chamitoff (@astro_taz), talked to us about flying the Space Shuttle, as well as about the future of human space flight.
As members of STS-134 Crew (DAMA), they also told us about the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (@AMS_02), CERN’s experiment which they transported and installed on the ISS with Endeavour. AMS02 is a particle physics experiment, a sophisticated particle detector designed to search for various types of unusual matter, such as antimatter and the mysterious dark market, by performing precision measurements of cosmic rays composition and flux. Its measurements, which were began while still in Endeavour’s payload bay, hope to provide answers to cosmologic questions, such as “What makes up the Universe’s invisible mass?” or “What did happen to the primordial antimatter?”
We also met the new generation of ESA’s astronauts, the dynamic Samantha Cristoforetti (@AstroSamantha) and the charmingly modest Luca Parmitano (@Astro_Luca), who talked about their preparations for travelling and living on board the ISS. Samantha and Luca are a great inspiration for young people and excellent role models.
European Astronaut Centre
One of the most thrilling parts of the SpaceTweetup was our visit to the European Astronaut Centre. The EAC is ESA’s training facility where astronauts and prospective astronauts prepare, in exact replicas of several ISS modules, for the tasks that they will perform during their stay on the Station. We got to go inside all ISS modules there, including the Columbus laboratory, we got to touch everything, press all the buttons, take our pictures everywhere and listen to exciting details about the ISS’ operation! The tour of the Training Centre was at the end of that incredible day and was the perfect closing for it. I remember shouting: ‘Geez! They really did leave the best for last!!’.
Details on how you could become an astronaut yourself can be found on ESA’s site.
The ESA/DLR SpaceTweetup had one very special moment. A unique moment, which as all beautiful things in life, came about spontaneously and without planning. While SpaceTweetup participants and organisers were gathered for the traditional group photo, through the entrance of the twent in comes @astro_Cady and @astro_Paolo! Everybody cheered for them to join in the photo. But before they finished seating themselves down, one after the other in came the rest of the astronauts, @astro_Box, @astroIronMike, Drew and @astro_Taz! Swept by cheers and applause, the astros started diving one by one into the crowd, mixing among us, above, below, in front and behind us! This moment will forever be remembered in SpaceTweetup history as the ‘astro-diving’!
Pre-SpaceTweetup Events and Spacetweep bonding
Already a month before the big day, SpaceTweetup participants had become a tight group. We set up a wiki page on which we exchanged information and advice, we had a unique logo/patch specifically designed for the 1st European SpaceTweetup (this was Eico Neumann’s (@travelholic) idea and he holds the copyright on the design) and we organized three amazing pre-SpaceTweetup events, through which we got to know each other before the SpaceTweetup day. Of course all events were space related! And those that weren’t, we named them so!
On Saturday morning, Remco Timmermans (@timmermansr) had organised for us an exclusive tour of the Speyer Τechnik Μuseum, where among other amazing things, we got to see the prototype of the Russian version of the Space Shuttle, the Buran!
In the afternoon of the same day, we visited the historic Bonn Observatory, where the Amateur Astronomers Society gave us a tour of the place where the Observatory’s founder, Friedrich W. Argelander, made the observations for the infamous Bonner Durchmusterung catalogue, chartering the position and luminosity of more than 324,000 stars of the Northern Hemisphere. Later on, Remco, Eico and Lynn van Rooijen (@lynnvr) made three exciting presentations to the amateur astronomers on their impressions and memories from recent NASATweetups. Upon popular demand (!) astronomer and excellent photographer Lynn gave another lecture on astrophotography with hyperstar lens. Of course, a German sausage and beer BBQ at the Observatory’s beautiful gardens could not be avoided!
German food and a lot of Kölsch, the local beer native to Cologne, was also the theme of the first of the pre-SpaceTweetup events, the legendary #SpaceKoelch, organized for us by Daniel Scuka (@danielscuka) on Firday night at a cute brewery in Cologne. The event was so successful that there are already ongoing arrangements on Twitter to repeat it, a #SpaceKoelsch2 !!!
ESA and DLR teams
The ESA/DLR SpaceTweetup was perfectly planned and executed! Congratulations to all who worked on this, such as Fulvio Drigani, Lorena Martino (both @ESA_Italia), Erica Rolfe (@ericarolfe and @esa), Jocelyne Landeau-Constantin (@jlconst), Arantxa Alonso (@ESA_ES) on the ESA team, and on the DLR side Marco Trovatello, (@marco_t, @DLR_de and @DLR_en) and our amazing anchorman for the day Andreas Schepers (@AndreasSchepers and @esa_de). Their hard work and love for what they do were evident in the smallest details.
Special reference should be made to DLR’s Henning Krause (@henningkrause, @DLR_de and @DLR_en), who made SpaceTweetup history: in the middle of all the preparation madness for an event like this being organized for the first time in Europe, during the final week, Henning, not only travelled to the U.S. to board and accompany SOFIA to Cologne, he also got married! I know a lot of brides and grooms who would swear that this is simply not possible!
ESA and the future of outreach
The SpaceTweetup in Cologne was very special for everyone, participants, organisers and speakers, because it was the first ever European Tweetup. How successful it actually was, only added to its uniqueness.
ESA’s work on raising public awareness on its activities and advancing the use of social media is admirable, more so if you take into account the inherent difficulties caused by ESA’s nature as a stand-alone organization, not being part of any one country.
I was glad to see that a second ESA SpaceTweetup has already taken place on 9 October at the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in theNetherlands, allowing access to the heart of ESA’s technology for 30 more space fans.
We’re certainly looking forward to what’s next!
Several parts of this post are taken from @akanel’s interview to ESA’s Greek portal.