No longer can I say that I have never won a contest anymore. I was lucky enough to be one of 25 people picked randomly (well, normalized slightly for geography and gender) from over 2,000 entries to be a citizen journalist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the Mars Curiosity rover landing. As a NASA Social attendee, I have been given access to document, photograph, and interact with the engineers and facilities involved in the mission.
I went to the JPL Open House a few years ago. I recall going to the viewing gallery “dark room” for deep space mission control, but was not allowed to take photographs. This time, I was on the floor of the room (and the adjacent Curiosity room), talking to the engineers, and posting images to Twitter. We have been given access to locations that most employees cannot enter–and have been encouraged to share our experiences online.
Day 1 of the NASA Social was a morning conference meeting shared with six other social meeting gatherings at other NASA sites. After that, we at JPL toured the operations and image processing centers, mission control locations, and watched rover testers drive a stripped-down Curiosity over small boulders in a sandbox yard designed to simulate Martian ground conditions.
On Day 2, I participated in an actual press conference, surrounded by reporters from Reuters, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and foreign media. My parents watched the event at home on NASA TV (also streamed online). A couple of NASA Social attendees were able to ask questions.
Now, we are to day 3, which is the actual landing. The first signal of a safe landing is expected to arrive at around 10:31 pm Pacific Daylight Time. Photographs can be taken as soon as four minutes after touchdown, yet it may be about 12:30 am before they are received on earth via the Odyssey orbiter. The print journalists at the press conference have been concerned about their deadlines at the late hour, yet those of us on social media can live “tweet” as news arrives.
I will be covering the event on my Twitter account (@rmglennon). Follow #NASASocial to hear what other attendees are saying.