Sunday Story: My NASA Social experiences

It’s the moment you all have been waiting for! This story was printed in the Livingston Enterprise, Fentress Courier, and the Crossville Chronicle this week. But, I know that not all of you get those papers, so guess what today’s Sunday Story is? 🙂 For those of you who read the story in the papers, scroll down to see more pictures at the bottom of this story!

I hope you enjoy!

Over the Moon

WeatherTAP’s Meteorologist Mark was chosen by NASA to cover the launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket, the most powerful rocket in NASA’s fleet today. Mark was also chosen to cover the Orion Ascent Abort mission the following week.

Out of the hundreds of applicants for each mission, Mark was one of only 55 chosen. Being chosen for back-to-back missions is unheard of.

In order to be selected for these assignments, called NASA Socials, NASA investigates the social media of the applicant and the quality of their social media posts. The process is quite selective!

The Falcon Heavy event began with a live taping of NASA TV. NASA Social participants sat in on a live taping of the show, which featured scientists who had been working on the projects going up on this launch.

Among those missions were six NOAA satellites that will help scientists better understand the atmosphere over the tropics. The tropics influence global weather, so it’s important for scientists to understand the tropics as much as they can.

These satellites are called “cube sats” and are no bigger than a shoe box. This launch carried a total of 16 cube sats, the largest ever payload for a Falcon Heavy rocket.

Another critical part of this mission was putting an atomic clock in space to help with navigation. As of now, astronauts rely on GPS information coming from earth, which takes up to half an hour to reach a spacecraft. This atomic clock will allow for near real-time GPS data.

The NASA Social group was then bused to the launch site, where the rocket stood so magnificently. How humbling to stand so close to something so powerful!

This was the first night launch of a Falcon Heavy, and only the third time the rocket had ever been launched. After three launches, a rocket becomes certified for use by the military.

The rocket lit up the whole sky when it blasted off! Mouths dropped. As the rocket climbed higher, it became difficult to see, but that’s just when the show started!

The return of the solid rocket boosters was the best part. As they re-fired, high up in sky, they created different colors in the sky that were wavy in appearance. It looked like the sky of another planet.

Then, the boosters returned! The sounds produced during all of this are amazing, shaking the ground you stand upon. Then, the third, main booster returned and once again the entire night sky lit up, followed by another sonic boom, as it headed toward a platform out at sea.

After a few days of rest, it was time for the NASA Social for the Orion Ascent Abort mission. Once again, NASA Social participants we were taken to the press room for talks from those who work so hard on these projects.

This mission was to test the ability of astronauts to abort during a liftoff, just in case something goes wrong. Participants were bused to the launch pad to see the Orion capsule.

Participants were then taken to a Crawler, the vehicle that transports rockets to the launch pads. They creep along at a snail’s pace, weighing nearly 18 million pounds! Tennessee River rock is used for the Crawler’s path, because it can’t produce sparks when rolled across.

The next stop was the Cryogenics Lab. This is where scientists work with liquid Nitrogen as a propellant for the rockets. It’s a low-temperature propellant that makes launches possible. Nitrogen is the steam-like fog seen coming from the rockets just before liftoff.

Liquid Nitrogen freezes things quickly. The Cryogenicist took a rubber bouncing ball and turned it into a rock-solid piece of ice in seconds. He then dropped it on the floor and it shattered to pieces.

The launch took place early the next morning. The sky glowed of orange and red with the rising sun. The craft was to be lifted to about 31,000 feet before performing the abort mission. At that altitude, the craft broke apart and the escape capsule was propelled away. It then fell to the earth and splashed down into the ocean.

The Orion Ascent Abort mission successfully tested the capability of astronauts to abort a mission as the rocket is ascending. Such escape mechanisms might have saved the lives of the Challenger astronauts in 1986.

As if all of this weren’t enough, a weatherTAP Facebook follower introduced Mark to a gentleman with the 45th Weather Squadron. These are the folks who make the weather forecasts for the launches.

With his military pass, he took Mark for an incredible tour. He showed him where the Challenger is buried. He showed where Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins once parked their Chevrolet Corvettes, a gift from Chevrolet after they walked on the moon. He showed the defense system that will shoot a rocket down if something goes wrong.

He took Mark to where Alan Shepard was blasted into space, becoming the first American to orbit the earth. Back then, the rocket launches were within hundreds of yards of the control center and the control center was like a bunker. They had to do it this way because radio communication wouldn’t reach much farther than that.

The tour concluded with a visit to the command center, where everyone gathers for the launches. This is where the nail biting takes place. Everything has to work right for a successful mission, something NASA is able to pull off with incredible precision.

It has now been 50 years since American Astronauts left footprints on our beautiful moon. The next step is to sustain a presence there, like we do on the International Space Station. Then, we’ll head for Mars.

The inventions and technology developed for these missions will change our lives.

Can you imagine looking up at the moon, knowing there are stations of people there? Can you imagine the day we walk on Mars for the first time? NASA invites us all to dream big and look forward to the future. I say we take them up on that!


Pictured below is the night launch of the Falcon Heavy. Unlike anything I had ever seen, heard, or felt. What a night!


Liftoff! Ain’t she a beaut?! This pic was taken from a camera near the launch pad. That water tank releases all of its water during these liftoffs, not for cooling, but for sound reduction. The water keeps the sound waves from destroying the rocket. Did I mention these launches are loud? ha


This was taken by my NASA Social friend, Tony Bendele. We got to visit the Falcon Heavy while it was on the launch pad. It was quite the sight! Notice those solid rocket boasters on the side are dirty looking. That’s because they were being reused for this mission.


It was at this moment (pictured below), when the return of the solid rocket boosters created this nebulae in the sky, that this whole event surpassed the experience of me seeing my first tornado on Feb. 5, 2008. They are still very close in being #1 and #2, but this, if only for a moment, helped this surpass that experience. I promised that tornado that night that it would always be number one, but in the very, very early morning hours of June 25th, I broke that promise. 🙂

11_To the Moon!

The return of the Solid Rocket Boosters to earth. I just can’t explain the emotion.


Liftoff of the Orion capsule to test the abort capabilities in flight. The abort mission would take place at 31,000 feet. We were close to this sunrise launch!


Everything worked like a charm. If only the Challenger astronauts had had this chance. Eerily, the smoke plume afterwards reminded all of us of the smoke plume left behind by the Challenger explosion. A sign?


Look to the left of center of the pic, in the blue, and you’ll see the capsule falling to earth. Smooth as silk.

24_To the Moon!

And all 24 sensors on board were recovered. In this test, the capsule did not use parachutes to slow down (due to the cost of the parachutes). So, they had to recover these sensors. The remaining part of the capsule will become the foundation for a coral reef.

26_To the Moon!


I hope you enjoyed that and I’ll see you at the launch I get invited too!





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