At 5:57 a.m. on Thursday, Atlantis landed from it's final NASA mission, STS-135, marking an end to the 30-year-old space shuttle program.
At 12:15 p.m., it was a seemingly normal, yet crowded, afternoon in NASA Langley Research Center's cafeteria.
And then a mob broke out.
It was a dance routine celebrating the shuttle … a "flash mob."
As the music began to play, more than 40 students and employees gradually stood up from their tables and deserted their food trays as they began performing the "Shuttle Shuffle," which was choreographed by Stacy Dees of the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) and her friend Aubrei Conway.
The first invitation to participate was extended by Mel Ferebee to the LARSS (Langley Aerospace Research Summer Scholars), DEVELOP, MUST (Motivating Undergraduate Students in Science and Technology ) and INSPIRE (Interdisciplinary National Science Project Incorporating Research and Education) students at a morning seminar. Soon after, the Langley Emerging Professionals Committee (LEPC) and the student's mentors were invited to join.
Ferebee handed over the idea for the flash mob to the students after getting it from a Mind Sprint, when an employee brings a problem to a diverse group of people who arrive at a timely, creative solution. The flash mob was a portion of the solution for Ferebee, who was tasked with finding ways to commemorate the end of the shuttle program.
"I'm a big proponent of crowdsourcing," Ferebee said. "I left it to the crowd."
The crowd of students grew the idea. Michael Wagner, a LARSS student who works at NIA suggested that Dees choreograph the dance. Dees is a certified Zumba instructor who leads classes at the NIA.
Dees had been in Florida with Ferebee a week earlier and talked to him about her involvement with Zumba, a dance fitness program.
Mel Ferebee invited students and employees at NASA Langley's Research Center to participate in a shuttle commemoration flash mob. Two weeks later, on the day Atlantis landed from NASA's final shuttle mission, participants performed the "Shuttle Shuffle" in NASA Langley's cafeteria.
Also, through the NIA she was working with Langley Research Center and Johnson Space Center on NASA's national "Because It Flew" art and essay contest, in which middle- and high-school students submit material about why the shuttle is important to American history.
"It all just seemed to tie in really well," Dees said.
NIA posted the video of Dees and Conway doing the dance and sent it out to students and the LEPC.
Dozens of students and employees attended the first secret flash mob practice, which took place in the Reid Conference Center on July 8. Earlier in the afternoon, Atlantis had lifted off toward the International Space Station.
"I think most of the people involved were excited about being a part of something this big," Dees said. "They feel tied to NASA as a part of its history and legacy."
That excitement, combined with two other practices, had amounted to a memorable performance for the surprised cafeteria crowd and the participants.
As "Rocketeer," by the Far East Movement ended, students wearing flight suits rolled out a banner that read:
Because it Flew: A Shuttle Shuffle
Langley salutes the NASA Shuttle program!
NASA Langley Research Center proudly honors the men and women who have contributed to the shuttle: an amazing achievement for the engineering community, an asset to the scientific community, and source of inspiration and innovation for the general public.
"On this historical day, when the Shuttle Orbiter rolled to a stop for the last time, I am proud to be part of the team that honored the contributions of NASA and its extended family to the space shuttle program in this very special way," Ferebee said to the participants.
Ferebee, who also took part in the flash mob, is working with Langley's alumni on a space shuttle program commemoration video, which is expected to be complete by September.
A wide range of memories from the space shuttle program will live on at Langley … because it flew.
Zumba Classes for NIA and NASA Langley employees and students:
How Long: 10-Week Session
When: Mondays from 5:00–5:50 p.m.
Where: NIA, 100 Exploration Way, Hampton, VA 2366, Rm. 137
Cost: $5.00 per class (or $40 upfront for a 10-week session).
What to bring: Tennis shoes (preferably with very little tread), water bottle, and a towel