Social Media Followers Hear Stories of Kennedy's 50-year History
While the 50-year history of the Kennedy Space Center includes powerful rockets lifting off on historic missions to Earth orbit and beyond, it is also a story of dedicated and talented people working as a team. About 45 of NASA's social media followers gathered at the Florida spaceport Aug. 2-3 to hear from key past and present leaders who related stories of the space agency's efforts to explore the unknown. It was the first social media event run entirely by Kennedy.
A relatively new phenomenon, social media enthusiasts use web- and mobile-based technologies to communicate with followers in interactive dialogues. Their reactions to the speakers were posted instantly on Facebook, Twitter and similar media.
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden was among those who addressed the group explaining the space agency's approach to planning for the future.
"People today want to see performance," he said. "That's the course we've been trying to set over the last three years or so. Establish some goals for NASA, tell people when we are going to do it and how much it's going to cost -- as best we can determine -- and then try to do it.
"Today, for humanity, I think Mars is the ultimate destination," Bolden said.
The NASA Social also featured speakers who worked at Cape Canaveral in the earliest days of Project Mercury and were a part of the organization that would become Kennedy.
"It was a different era when we began," said Jack King, NASA's first chief of Public Information. "The (Wernher) von Braun team transferred to NASA and Kurt Debus came down here to the Cape, setting up the Launch Operations Center in 1962. We were in a space race between two super powers -- the United States and the Soviet Union."
Speakers recalled how the nation pulled together to achieve the remarkable goal of landing on the moon before the end of the decade.
"Going to the moon wasn't a big deal to me, (the big deal) was what it took to get there," said Lee Solid, a retired senior executive with Rockwell and Boeing. "I can't imagine anything more exciting."
The social media participants represented varied backgrounds including an engineer, a law professor, a stay-at-home mom and a self-described "NASA nerd." What they all have in common is an interest in the space agency's efforts to explore and utilize space.
One participant, University of South Florida student Joey Vars, pointed out that hearing first-hand recollections helped him get a better feel for the effort involved in going into space.
"When you hear from people who lived the history, you understand what it took to do what they did," said Vars, who goes by "RocketMan" on his Facebook page.
After listening to recollections of Kennedy's history, anecdotes and achievements, several social media participants had high praise for the space center's team.
"The dedication and pride of the people who work here is amazing," said Kim Davis, a fourth grade teacher from Auburn, Ala. "I sure appreciate their contributions."
Another participant, Dan O'Shea, is a professor at the University of Phoenix campus in Tampa, Fla. He has more than 5,500 followers on his Google Plus account.
"I started following NASA's programs in the 1960s," O'Shea said. "I'm still fascinated by what goes on here."
Space Gateway Support President Roy Tharpe recalled the uncertainty that was inherent during the early years of the fledgling space program. While on one of his first jobs as part of a surveying crew for Cape Canaveral's Launch Complex 34, he watched a rocket lift off just to the south.
"It launched up about 350 feet and turned left . . . right at me," he said. "I jumped to the ground just as it exploded."
"Imagine a rocket taking a turn and heading straight for you. Yikes!" Davis posted on her Facebook page.
Tharpe was later a part of the team that helped prepare for construction of the Vehicle Assembly Building and other elements of the complex which would be used to launch the first humans to the moon.
Solid recounted the development of rockets and their engines through the relatively small Redstone, Jupiter and Thor-Delta programs to the breakthroughs that resulted in powerful engines for the Saturn and space shuttle launch vehicles.
"There has been no more efficient machine than the space shuttle main engine, or SSME," he said. "In fact, the SSMEs are now being readied for use on the Space Launch System."
The Space Launch System is an advanced, heavy-lift launch vehicle that will provide a new capability for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit.
Another Apollo veteran to address the group was former Kennedy Space Center Director Jay Honeycutt. After serving in various roles in the Vehicle Simulation Section at the Johnson Space Center during the moon landing program, he transferred to Kennedy, serving as director of Shuttle Management and Operations and as center director.
"The center director is like being mayor of a small city," Honeycutt said. "You try to keep between 12,000 to 15,000 people pointed in the same direction."
Dr. Liz Warren, communications coordinator for Kennedy's International Space Station Program Science Office, encouraged the participants to join a friend some evening or early one morning in watching history in the making as the station goes over.
"Be sure to tell your friend some great factoid about the space station," Warren said. "For example, did you know that during the station's first 10 years, over 1,100 investigations were conducted by researchers from more than 60 countries?"
Thomas Engler, deputy manager of Kennedy's Planning and Development Office, was one of several speakers who updated the space center's plans for upcoming programs.
"There is a lot of exciting work ongoing to position us for the future," he said. "The next 50 years will be much more diverse than the past."
After hearing about NASA's Commercial Crew, Launch Services and center development programs, Emily Carney Tweeted a message with a common theme among the day's social media participants.
"Just like to let everyone know that NASA is NOT going out of business," said Carney, a journalist from St. Petersburg, Fla.
The social media participants also toured the historic launch pads of NASA's early days and the present-day facilities that supported the Space Shuttle Program and Kennedy's transition to the future.
"You know the Vehicle Assembly Building is big," O'Shea said. "But, my gosh, I was surprised by the size inside. It was also great to see (the space shuttle) Atlantis up close."
The event concluded with Kennedy's participation in NASA's first-ever multi-center simulcast previewing the landing of the Mars Science Laboratory's Curiosity rover.
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center