Space Shuttle Technician Turns Sunrise Tradition Into Book
Jen Scheer, a shuttle technician, takes pictures of the sunrise at Kennedy Space Center every weekday morning on her way to work and tweets them.
Credit: Michael R. Brown/FLORIDA TODAY

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. ? The sun is setting on the shuttle program, and on Jen Scheer's career as a shuttle technician.

But for the near future, the 35-year-old Merritt Island resident's focus is on sunrises.

Each morning before work at Kennedy Space Center, Scheer snaps pictures of day breaking and posts a favorite on Twitter and other sites.

The ritual has won an international following and become a book project, one that demonstrates the power of online social networking and symbolizes the promise of a fresh start after so much uncertainty about the space program.

"It's a nice way to start the day out," Scheer said after taking dozens of sunrise photos earlier this week. "It's something to look forward to."

She began regularly shooting sunrises late last year. Fans soon began to demand the pictures.

"It got to be where if I didn't do it, people would say, 'Where's the sunrise? It didn't come up today,'" she said.

Scheer left no doubt on Monday.

A band of dark clouds hung low above Launch Complex 39 as the sun crept over the horizon at 6:56 a.m., transforming the center's turn basin into a pool of orange light.

"Nice water reflections," said Scheer, shooing away the occasional mosquito.

By 7:37 a.m. she had picked a picture whose cloud arrangements she found pleasing, titled it "Reflective" and posted a link on Twitter.

The response was almost immediate.

"While I was driving to work this morning, I thought to myself, 'Today's #dailysunrise should be stunning,' " tweeted 33-year-old David Allen of Palm Bay, or "DaveFlys." "I was right!"

Loyal following

Scheer believes most fans simply appreciate a pretty picture each morning. Especially during winter, some viewers don't get to see the sun much. But for some, the location has special meaning.

"I think a lot of it is the connection with this place," she said. "A lot of people love the space center."

Scheer already had a well-established audience on Twitter, where she is known as "flyingjenny" and has over 3,000 followers.

She founded the Space Tweep Society, a gathering place for Twitter users who are space enthusiasts. Her tweeting recently earned her a Shorty Award, which recognizes Twitter efforts.

"We've only begun to see what you can do with the power of social media," she said. "It's a great way of bringing people together for different causes."

Uncertain future

Her network is proving helpful at a difficult time in her career.

Scheer recently opted to take a voluntary layoff from the job she's held for eight years servicing shuttle thrusters.

Come Oct. 1, she'll be one of about 900 local United Space Alliance employees out of a job. Thousands more will be let go when the shuttle program ends, but that date remains unknown as political wrangling over NASA continues.

"You can't make plans for the future when you have no idea when (the program) is going to end," she said. "I'm just ready to be in charge of what happens to me again."

Long-term, Scheer hopes to start an educational program that would allow students to work on a replica Mercury-era rocket at a refurbished pad.

Project awaits

For now, she's acting on friends' suggestions to turn the sunrise series into a book or calendar.

She recently posted a book proposal on a site called Kickstarter, which collects pledges if the project's creator meets a fundraising goal within a specified period of time.

Scheer's goal: $6,500 within 15 days. The money would help her produce electronic and hardcover versions of the coffee table-style book, and buy new photo equipment.

Contributions from $5 to $500 rolled in, and she was halfway to her goal within 24 hours.

"I was thinking, this was a good idea," Scheer said.

She reached the target last weekend, but can continue to collect pledges through 5:33 p.m. today.

Mainly for fun

Scheer plans to publish the book by the end of the year or to coincide with the last shuttle mission, now planned in February.

When she's no longer allowed inside the space center gates, she'll continue to shoot photos from nearby locations.

The project is mainly for fun, but it could help her stay financially "afloat" for a period of time if successful.

Even if it doesn't, it will serve an important purpose in her post-shuttle life.

"I think it will be difficult to get up knowing I won't have to be at work," she said. "But it's a really good way of keeping myself on a good schedule and not getting lazy."

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