I was invited to attend a NASA Budget Briefing as part of a recent NASATweetup held at NASA Headquarters on 13 February 2012. I’ve been to other NASA Tweetups, but this was a new type of event for both attendees and NASA. First, the topic was more administrative than any others. No fire or sound waves. No Florida hair. Heck, one of the people I hadn’t seen for a while said "You look different". My response: "You’ve never seen me in work clothes".
The first two NASATweetups I attended were launches (STS-134 and Juno). Both of these had 150 attendees with a two-day program of speakers and presentations, then a launch. This meeting was part of an existing event, a media briefing about the 2013 Fiscal Year Budget. Yes, this was PowerPoint and spreadsheets, for the most part. However, the content of those presentation materials was going to show us which programs were moving forward and which ones were going to have to change or be dropped completely. Being a data professional, this was my type of event. I wanted the data and the budget wasn’t going to be released until one hour before the event. That’s a fast read of a set of slides and some large documents. I went for the slides.
The second thing that was different: this tweetup was much smaller. The original registration limited attendees to 20 and I think we had just under that. The most important difference was that we were going to be part of the media, able to ask questions along with the traditional media. This is a first for NASATweetups and I’m not sure how many other US Federal media briefings have involved a mix of traditional and social media. I was excited that I could be part of this new approach to media, especially because it brought together two of my passions: space and social media. More on that mixing later.
The first thing that was different from other NASATweeups: We received no badges or swag bags…because traditional media don’t get those, either. If I do one of these again, I’ll bring my own badge or credentials.
In the opening statements, Bob Jacobs announced this new era and took our photo, which was posted to Twitter.
You can see him pause to take the photo in the video below. I think that was our second sign that this press briefing was going to be different.
This year, we are trying something a little different. As well as traditional media representatives, for the first time we have invited members of the social media community to be a part of today’s presentation, and we will be taking questions via Twitter using the #AskNASA. So we thank everyone for joining us for today’s presentation.
We will go over some of the ground rules first, but well, wait a second. I want to make sure I capture this. If we are going to be social media, I need to do it from here too.
MR. JACOBS: Okay. Got a Photo.
I’ve listed some links in the related section below of the analyses of the impact of the new budget, but the ones that were of note to me:
- STEM education and outreach was cut from $138 million dollars in 2012 to $100 million. That’s a significant cutback to this program, but only a tiny portion of a tiny portion of the overall US Federal budget. This is going to make it more difficult to find and retain qualified people in the future. I’m also guessing that other organizations are having their STEM budgets cut as well.
- ExoMars program will need to be re-programmed, meaning that we will not be collaborating with the European agencies for these Mars exploration programs . This has left ESA scrambling to find other countries to help with these programs, most likely Roscosmos.
DataChick’s Question on Open Government and Open Data
I was fortunate to be called upon to ask a question:
Let’s take one more question over here, and then we will take a couple from Twitter, and then we will go to the field centers.
QUESTIONER (Karen Lopez): Hi. I am Karen Lopez. I am Datachick on Twitter.
One of the ways that the public, the rest of us, can benefit from all these NASA missions is via access to open government transparency and open data initiatives, like at data.NASA.gov. Have budget pressures made any changes to those programs? Will they continue to expand?
ADMINISTRATOR BOLDEN: Do you want to take that?
DR. ROBINSON: Okay. So NASA couple things. One is you know the administration has a very vigorous Open Government Initiative, and NASA is a participant in that. And it recently went international, and we have an international event coming up in April April, thank you April, where we will be gathering together folks from around the world, virtually, of course, to work on things. So we have very vigorous programs.
And a large part of what we do in Open Government is, as you said, we leverage off of things that the programs do already, make their data available, make it accessible, Open Government a little bit more just to point them in the right direction. So it’s really Open Government is really a philosophy at NASA that we try to put as much as we can out into the public in the most understandable way possible, and so we are doing that.
The Open Government Initiative has taken us in a few different directions, and we will continue that. We plan to keep going forward, but it is always when you talk about Open Government, it is really it is hard to predict, because we are going to do so much, right? We are going to have so much data coming in and all of that. NASA is a very exciting place to work, because now we have apps on our iPhones from NASA and a whole bunch of things, so we are already out there in terms of Open Government
QUESTIONER (Karen Lopez): [Speaking off mic.]
[Here I followed up with "So no immediate changes?" ]
DR. ROBINSON: Well, not in the near future. We’re going to assess I am looking at my partner here. I am the senior accountable official for Open Government, and then our CIO over there
ADMINISTRATOR BOLDEN: We are both looking at the CIO.
DR. ROBINSON: Yeah, we are both looking at the CIO, and it is her folks mainly who do it. And so I think we are really going to assess up to this international event, how to keep those kind of things going or not.
And with that question I was able to add my third passion: Data. As in, Love Your Data. The terms data or information was mentioned 21 times during the briefing, twice in NASA Administrator Charles Bolden’s opening remarks.
This budget supports more than 80 science missions, 56 currently in operation and 28 now under development, that cover the vital data we need to understand our own planet, diverse missions reaching farther into our solar system, and the next generation of observatories peering beyond the reaches of our neighborhood to other galaxies and their solar systems and undiscovered phenomena
The missions currently at Mars the Mars Science Laboratory, on its way, and MAVEN, well into development will provide many years of data to help us understand the Red Planet and our needs in future years to meet the President’s challenge to send humans to Mars in the mid 2030s.
No, we weren’t. In some of the descriptions of the event, including the announcement of the Tweetup, we were described as "Twitter Fans" of NASA. One of the issues I can see with trying to mix fans and journalism is that…they shouldn’t mix. Sure, it’s not unheard of for a journalist to be excited about interviewing someone, but in theory they aren’t supposed to be fans. I don’t think my role there was as a citizen journalist. However, I think we Tweetup attendees did a good job not gushing all over Bolden and Robinson in our questions. In fact, I was impressed by the lack of fanboi attitude in any of our questions.
You can really tell the difference when you see this still taken from This Week at NASA coverage:
Three laptops, all running Tweetdeck in that photo. That’s me tweeting in the upper center of the frame. Most of the traditional media attendees brought digital recorders and paper. So while they were taking notes, we were sharing live. That’s not necessarily better. It’s different. Mixing social media and traditional media can work. They don’t have to compete.
Some of the traditional media people from major media organizations even retweeted my question and told me afterwards that our questions were good. I think that means the new era of mixing traditional and social media may continue. I look forward to future NASATweetups for these types of events.
In talking to people after the event I think this experiment was a success. The Tweetup crowd came up with some great questions, as did the Twitterverse via the #AskNASA hashtag. I am happy that I was selected to be part of this new era of social media, NASA…and Data.
NASATweetup Video from C-SPAN
The entire event was just over an hour. You can watch the whole thing via this C-SPAN feed.
Or if you prefer the shorter briefing of the briefing, you can watch the one minute version on TW@N at the very beginning of this video.
On Monday, 13 February I’ll be part of another NASATweetup, this one at NASA Headquarters. Administrator Charlie Bolden will hold a briefing on the 2013 NASA Budget. There have been many reports that the 2013 budget will remain about the same as it was in prior budgets. However, this means that NASA will most likely have to pull out of agreements with other space agencies such as the European Space Agency (ESA) on collaborative efforts for future MARS missions.
I believe this is the first time that NASATweetup attendees will be attending a formal briefing and the first time we will be able to ask questions. In addition, NASA will be taking questions via Twitter from tweets using the #askNASA hashtag. My interest will most likely focus on the impact on NASA’s successful open government (http://open.nasa.gov ) and open data ( http://data.nasa.gov ) programs. I’ll also be interested in hearing what these budget restrictions mean to ongoing collaboration with other space agencies such as the Canadian Space Agency, Roscosmos, JAXA and ESA.
You can watch the budget briefing live at NASA TV on Monday, 13 February at 2 PM EST. This is available in many formats; make sure you take advantage of the formats offered for your device.
NASA prepared a video last year about their quest to win the future. It looks like NASA will be scaling back on those plans for 2013.
Briefing photo by Bob Jacobs
- http://www.nasa.gov/news/budget/index.html NASA Budget Page
- http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/516674main_NASAFY12_Budget_Estimates-Overview-508.pdf The FY 2012 Budget Estimate
Several weeks ago NASA announced a new Tweetup for the launch of NASA Juno, a mission to collect data about the origins of Jupiter. Rob and I were not selected in the first round, but waitlisted (lovingly referred to as being on the #WaitUp List). Just a couple of weeks ago we both got news that we were moved up to the invite list. That made me happy, as Rob has not yet had the opportunity to attend a NASATweetup before. This time we can share the experience…and I hope the blogging and picture taking duties.
This rocket launch is scheduled to take place Friday 5 August around 11:34 AM ET. Right now it’s looking like the weather is still at 70% go, even with Emily forming in the Atlantic.
Like the NASATweetup I attended in May, NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) will be providing briefings and demonstrations the day before the launch. Notice that you can watch some of the NASATweetup activities on NASA TV starting at 10:30 AM ET on 4 August. Since NASA provides this stream for free to most TV providers, you may get this channel for free. If not, you can also live stream via the links provided.
The Juno spacecraft will take five years to reach Jupiter. In 2016 it will spend about a year orbiting the red-eyed planet then "deorbit" into Jupiter to end its mission. The spacecraft is solar powered. You might notice how large those panels are in the NASA artwork. That’s because Jupiter is 25 times further away from the sun as the Earth is, so it has less sunlight to power the craft.
Our agenda for the 2-day NASATweetup will be:
Thursday, Aug.4/L-1: Tweetup Day 1
(8:00 a.m. – Tower rollback)
11:00 a.m. – Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator
11:10 a.m. – Steve Levin, Juno project scientist
11:55 a.m. – Steve Matousek (@SteveMatousek), Juno proposal manager, and Jan Chodas, Juno project manager
12:15 p.m. – Chris Brosious, chief systems engineer for Juno, Lockheed Martin
2:00 p.m. – Tour of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, including stops at Launch Complex 17 (GRAIL), the Atlas V Spaceflight Operations Center (Juno/Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity), Launch Complex 41 (Juno), and the Vehicle Assembly Building
Friday, Aug. 5/ Launch: Tweetup Day 2
8:30 a.m. – Group picture beside the countdown clock
8:35 a.m. – Mike Ravine, JunoCam instrument manager, and Mike Caplinger, JunoCam Systems Engineer, Malin Space Science Systems
9:00 a.m. – Group 1: "Eyes on the Solar System" demo with Doug Ellison, JPL Visualization Producer (@NASA_Eyes) in press briefing room
Group 2: Gravity table demo with Dan Goods, JPL Visual Strategist, and What’s Up? astronomy demo with Jane Houston Jones, JPL Outreach Specialist, Cassini mission (@CassiniSaturn) in the tent
9:30 a.m. – Group 1: Gravity table and What’s Up?
Group 2: Eyes on the Solar System
10:00 a.m. – Rex Engelhardt, (@NASA_LSP), mission manager, Launch Services Program
(window closes at 12:43 p.m.)
~1 p.m. – Post-launch news conference on NASA TV
What an agenda. Bill Nye the Science guy. Investigators, Scientists, Project managers, Mission managers. What I found so great about the previous Tweetup I attended was having the opportunity to chat with people who are making a difference in the lives of millions of people, even for generations to come.
The tour is one of the most amazing parts of being a NASATweetup attendee. Special access to launch pads, the Vehicle Assembly Building, operations centers: these are really once in a lifetime experiences. We’ll be tweeting most of the event and posting pictures using the #NASATweetup and #NASAJuno hashtags, along with 150 other lucky space geeks.
The first is of the retraction of the Rotating Service Structure (RSS) that surrounds the shuttle while it is being prepared for launch. This happened about noon on 15 May 2011, the day before the launch. We tweet up-ers were taken by buses courtesy of the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Visitor Complex to just outside Pad 39A where Endeavour activities were finishing up prior the launch. I took a screen shot of Google Maps on my phone to show the location near where we viewed the retraction.
I was able to get a bazillion pictures, as the retraction takes about 30 minutes. We all stood there in the Florida sunshine, watching people do their work while the RSS slowly rotated away from the orbiter.
In addition to using real cameras, I also gave Video Girl Barbie a chance to do her own filming with her embedded video camera. Her camera produces low quality recordings, but I find what she does produce to be of decent quality. First up is the retraction video taken on 15 May just outside Pad 39A.
For some more context, this is my photo of Endeavour. That’s how close we where.
The next morning we arrived at KSC just after 3AM. It was especially nice to see the orbiter all lit up. We definitely weren’t as close this time, but being 3.1 miles away meant that we were the closest non-staff viewers of the launch.
Video Girl did a great job filming the launch. You may want to crank up your speakers to get the full effect of the rumbling launch sound.
I have a bunch of pictures to share, and a few draft blog posts hanging around that you’ll see over the next few weeks. I’ll try to spread them out a bit so that you aren’t inundated with all my #spacebrain content all at once.
I haven’t blogged yet about my NASA Tweetup experiences, for the most part because I’m worried about coming across as too emotional about the entire experience. As I previously posted, I’m attending a special NASA program that brings 150 Twitter users from around the world to Kennedy Space Center to watch the launch of the Shuttle Endeavour on her last mission, STS-134. I started this post hoping to keep it as a short overview. It’s not.
Pre-Tweetup – Level Green
The launch was originally scheduled for mid-April, then that was moved to 29 April due to a traffic jam in space. No worries. I arrived here in Florida on 26 April. Wednesday I picked up my credentials and then went over to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to add to my space brain, the term I’ve been using for being inundated with science about space exploration. I also met up with my house mates of Venus House for the first time.
Thursday – Level Orange
Thursday we headed over to Kennedy Space Center (KSC) to get settled in the Tweetup Tent (affectionately referred to as the twent). I new we were going to be close to the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building, but I had no idea we’d be parking right next to it. That was just awe-inspiring. There we met our fellow Tweetup attendees. We started with the obligatory “everybody introduce yourselves, tell us where you are from and something interesting about you”. Crap. Interesting? Okay, I’ll say that I’m a…well, let’s wait to see what everyone else says. I was sitting on the far end, near the air conditioners. They started on the other side. As people stood up to say who they were I sat there stunned by the number of accomplishments and backgrounds. Quick…what the hell can I say that is interesting? Somehow “I like data” just didn’t seem to be that interesting with this group. Attendees came from all walks of life: 3 -time Jeopardy champion, Internet company founders, Twitter staff, rocket scientists, TV and film stars, musicians, pilots, journalists…well, you can read what most said about themselves at http://nasatweet.com/wiki/STS134_Fun_facts …but I think that most people were a bit too humble about their interesting things. So I finally settled on “I’m a former national spokesperson for Women in IT. I help encourage girls to take more science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)” That seemed to go over well, with this crowd being STEM friendly. I mentioned that I had brought the technical Barbies with me to enjoy the launch, too. I was already starting to have the overwhelming feeling that this Tweetup was going to be something like I’ve never experienced before. Emotions were at Alert Level Orange by that point.
We did a tour of the KSC property, including the inside of the VAB. There we got to see Atlantis being prepped for her last voyage soon after Endeavour’s trip. Did I tell you we got to go inside? That’s insane. There aren’t normal tours for going inside the VAB. I guess to other people it’s just where they work. For me it was just amazing. I need to find another word. Someone find me a thesaurus.
Thursday was a full program of speakers from NASA, including astronauts and staff. More on that later. We were supposed to go out near the pad to watch the retraction, but freaky storm weather cancelled that. My first disappointment. Emotions still at Level Orange, but barely.
Friday – Level Red
On Friday we headed back over to KSC ready to experience an opportunity of a lifetime — to see the launch from just over 3 miles away. To put this in perspective, if you were 400 yards from the launch the heat and flame would kill you. If you were 800 yards from the launch, the sound would kill you. So 3 miles is close. It’s as close as non-workers can get. Emotion Levels were Reddish Orange, sort of like a tequila sunrise. I set up my tripod to reserve a space. Right next to a tripod from an international camera crew. My tripod looked sad next to theirs, but it was setup and ready to go. More exciting program inside the twent happened, and I’ll post pictures of that in a later post.
Every presenter over the two days spoke of the emotion and the feeling of awe of what they did for a living. It was all about STEM, but overall the most blow-me-away thoughts were about humanity, peace, the meaning of life, and…emotions. As each person spoke, I could see the passion they had about the work they did; they were changing the world and they loved every minute of it.
Sadly, as Rob blogged, the launch was scrubbed about noon on Friday due to a mechanical failure. We were terribly disappointed, but all of us understood that safety first is the key phrase. We watched the Astronaut Van drive slowly past, it made an unexpected turn into the VAB drive. We were hoping that it was just making a special drive by of the special observation area, but it wasn’t to be. I was interviewed by NPR’s All Things Considered about this disappointment. I found out that interview made it to the air because people all over the US started tweeting that they heard me on their drives home from work. How wonderful is that?
I have to say that seeing that Astro Van take a turn when it wasn’t supposed to was heartbreaking. It wasn’t a crushing blow because I was by then riding a full RED ALERT emotionally already. I had experienced so many amazing things up to then it didn’t matter. The launch would happen when Endeavour was ready for it to happen.
Later in the afternoon President Obama arrived, even though the launch had been scrubbed, to meet the astronauts and their families. We were able to wave to him as he waved back at us, a bunch of Twitter Space-crazed photographers.
And then there was more: NASA Tweetup attendee Chris Cardinal proposed to attendee Nina Tallman, right in front of the Countdown Clock. As a fellow geek, that was so amazing to see. My emotions were now just going crazy. I took a bazillion pictures.
Most of us stayed in the twent, listening to ad hoc program presentations, chatting about everything that had been happening so far, and talking about making extended travel arrangements. We looked forward to a launch in the next 48 hours. All was fine.
Saturday – SQLSaturday
When the scrub was announced, Kendal van Dyke (twitter and another former NASATweetup attendee) reminded me there was a SQLSaturday happening in Jacksonville. I caught a ride with him and two other great SQL community members Bradley Ball (twitter) and Dan Taylor( twitter). So I got to spend time with the rocking SQL Community at the last minute. What a great opportunity. For the ride back we were all really tired and we had great gut-busting laughs, the kind that are hilarious if you are tired, entirely stoked from being with a great community and punchy from getting only a couple of hours of sleep. Thanks, guys, for taking care of me and the Technical Barbies. Oh, and for letting me be part of your SQLRoadtrip.
Now – Back to Tequila Red Orange
I have many photos and blog posts to share and am struggling with how to not overly spam this blog with them. I have lots of potential blog posts that talk about data, project management, decisions, and costs, benefits and risks. But my main concern is that I’m still GUSHING with emotions and I don’t think my posts will come across as anything but completely insane. I’ve been struggling with this post, trying not to fill it with #FTW #AWESOMESAUCE #ZOMG and 10,000 exclamation points. Did I tell you have pictures?
I so wish I could have taken every single girl that I talk to about taking more science, technology, math and engineering along with me to see an hear just how freaking rewarding STEM careers are. I’d show them how these careers change the world and make lives better. I’d show them the fabulous role models, how much fun they have, and how being in a community of insanely smart people can make every minute count.
As I am putting the finishing touches on this, NASA just announced that the current date (more about that coming, too) will be pushed back again. I was doing okay travel-wise because I was already planning on being in Orlando for SQLRally on this Saturday. Staying over a few extra days was cheaper and easier, so that’s what I’m doing. As of right now, it will be later and not 10 May as last announced. You know what? I’m still at EMOTION LEVEL RED…ish. All things considered.
Image by nasa hq photo via Flickr
A Right Turn Instead Of A Left Turn
Some time ago, Karen and I put our names in to attend the #NASATweetup scheduled for the last launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour (STS-134). Karen was chosen and went down last week and had a fabulous experience, but with less than 3 hours to go until the launch it got scrubbed. Throughout that morning they had already worked on a problem with a regulator and had made up for lost time caused by a storm the previous day and it all looked good for a launch. I was watching the tweets and through NASA TV saw the astronauts in the Astro Van heading to the launch pad when they turned right to go back instead of left and we found out the launch was scrubbed. As of right now, a new launch date has not been set as they work on the problem and determine when the next eligible target launch date can be.
But We’re Going To Disappoint All These People
The launch delay got me thinking about how decisions like that get made especially so close to the deadline and how we could apply this thinking to our own projects. Think about it, the President was on his way, there were numerous dignitaries, 150 #NASATweetup attendees, and an estimated 700,000 others there to watch this historic launch of the last shuttle flight of Endeavour. Can you imagine having to be the one that has to say “not today”? Have you ever been on a project when the executives are there saying “Let’s just go ahead and implement it and we’ll fix it later”?
Your Decision Making Process Is Key And Must Be In Writing
While most of us don’t deal with projects with the same risk factors as NASA does we still have to deal with problems and risk, but how we deal with it is key. As Karen detailed in her post #NASATweetup – It’s a GO! Readiness Reviews and Your Projects this all works when you have everything documented beforehand and you have a formal process for this. In essence, you have algorithms and decision trees that you follow that make sure that you make the right choice and don’t let human emotion and behaviour get in the way. Don’t get me wrong, this was not an immediate decision and I’m sure it was not an easy decision. But if you have all of your options and decision trees, policies and procedures mapped out ahead of time then the decision is based on those written policies and not subject to human emotion.
In the announcement of the delay Shuttle Launch Director, Mike Leinbach, stated:
Today, the orbiter is not ready to fly…we will not fly before we’re ready.
This was not a decision taken lightly, but after thoroughly evaluating the problem and determining if it could be fixed prior to launch or if it was more serious. But with such a short time to launch they had to make a firm decision, so they did. In my mind, this takes a lot of integrity and strength to be able to stand up and say that they can’t launch.
So the next time you have a problem on one of your projects think about this: WWND – What Would NASA Do? Better yet, when you start a project, write down all the possible scenarios, risks and decisions and a have a formal process so you can follow it when you need to.
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- Karen Lopez on Strutting: We all Know When You are Doing It. So Stop.
- Joey D'Antoni on Strutting: We all Know When You are Doing It. So Stop.
- Karen Lopez on Strutting: We all Know When You are Doing It. So Stop.
- Thomas LaRock on Strutting: We all Know When You are Doing It. So Stop.
- Karen Lopez on Strutting: We all Know When You are Doing It. So Stop.
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