Twitter Fans Flock to Space Shuttle Launch
Space shuttle Atlantis is illuminated by the sun as it rises through the clouds over NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida as it moves to the launch pad on Oct. 14, 2009 for a planned November launch.
Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett.

NASA is about to open space shuttle launches to a whole new audience.

About 100 lucky followers of NASA?s Twitter feed are descending on the agency?s Cape Canaveral, Fla., spaceport to get a front row seat to the planned Monday launch of space shuttle Atlantis. The gathering is the first time NASA has held an event for Twitterers to view a shuttle liftoff in person.

Atlantis is scheduled to fly on Nov. 16 at 2:28 p.m. EST (1928 GMT) from Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

Tweeps for shuttle

"This will be my first time getting this close to a launch," said Erin Libranda of Katy, Texas, who is planning to attend with her daughter Jordan Dailey. Libranda said she hopes that the shuttle can lift off on time and "that it is as exciting being there in person as it is watching it on TV."

Libranda saw the opportunity announced on her local news and signed up as quickly as she could. NASA gave tickets to the two-day event to the first 100 people to register.

"I'm certain it will be one of those 'top moments' of my life," said another tweep (Twitter user), Adam Fast of Lawrence, Kan. "I'm most excited to feel the ground shake, see the rockets light and meet some of the people behind all that happens."

Fast, a pilot, said he thinks it's important to educate the public more about NASA's activities and how they could impact everyday lives.

"NASA seems to be working hard to share what they're doing, but I don't think they're going deep enough yet," he told SPACE.com.

Tina Cassler, another attendee, grew up near the Florida spaceport but moved away 25 years ago and hasn't been back since. She travelled from Lauderdale, Minnesota for the event.

"The behind-the-scenes aspect intrigues me," Cassler told SPACE.com. "I hope to learn a great deal and better understand all that they do at NASA.

Stone age astronauts

For their part, the astronauts planning to ride Atlantis on an 11-day trip to the International Space Station said they are excited about the tweetup.

"I think it's exciting that this is generating more interest in space exploration and certainly interest in the last few missions of the shuttle," said STS-129 mission specialist Bobby Satcher in a preflight news conference. "It's bringing on the next generation who like to communicate in this kind of way and form their social networks this way. I'm excited that there are a lot of people who are twittering that will be following the mission."

Satcher, an orthopedic surgeon, is actually pulling tweeting double-time for Atlantis? mission as he posts updates as Astro_Bones and ZeroG_MD. Crewmate Leland Melvin, a veteran spaceflyer, is also posting Twitter updates as Astro_Flow.

The mission's commander, Charlie Hobaugh, however, expressed bemusement at the whole affair.

"I am in the stone ages as far as mass communications goes," Hobaugh said. "I don?t even know how to text message. Bobby, it's all up to you!"

The tweetup is part of NASA's growing involvement with the Twitter micro messaging service. Two spaceflyers currently onboard the space station ? NASA astronauts Jeff Williams ("Astro_Jeff") and Nicole Stott ("Astro_Nicole") ? also post updates to the site.

  • Video ? The STS-129 Crew Rehearses For Shuttle Flight 
  • Image Gallery - Shuttle Discovery's Midnight Launch
  • SPACE.com Video Show - Inside the International Space Station 

SPACE.com is providing complete coverage of Atlantis' STS-129 mission to the International Space Station with Staff Writer Clara Moskowitz in Washington, D.C. and Managing Editor Tariq Malik in New York. Click here for shuttle mission updates and a link to NASA TV.