Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Visiting ESTEC for the #AndreTweetUp, an in-flight call with astronaut André Kuipers

On 29 May 2012, some 80 space and twitter enthusiasts gathered at the European Space Agency's (ESA) ESTEC center in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, for a "tweetup" called the #AndreTweetUp. This author was among them.

 AndreTweetUp attendants (photo: ESA)
click image to enlarge

A "tweetup" is a gathering of twitter users. ESA organised the event around a live in-flight call with Dutch astronaut André Kuipers who is onboard the ISS. Eighty followers of the twitter acount of  André Kuipers were invited to attend, after a selection procedure that included the formulation of a question to Kuipers.

Ten of the 80 people present, actually got to ask that question during the live in-flight call . The event  included two lectures, a guided tour through the ESTEC facilities, and ended with the live video in-flight contact.

Dutch astronaut André Kuipers onboard the ISS live from space on the screen, and Swedish astronaut Christer Fuglesang in front of the screen moderating the live in-flight call (click image to enlarge)

For this author, who was among the lucky 80 to be invited (but alas not among the even more lucky 10 who got to ask their question to Kuipers), this kind of event was new. I jumped the twitter bandwagon late, a few months ago, and untill this #AndreTweetUp occasion, I had never heard of "tweetups".

So I had no idea what to expect. I half expected a hall full of Sheldon Coopers, dressed in Star-Trek costume, mumbling "fascinating!". Or 80 Wolowitzes, trying to hit on the ESA hostesses and talking about the space toilet they designed.

The reality was more benign. Indeed, there were a few people walking around wearing an astronaut's flight jacket covered in space-related patches (mind you: one of those actually was a genuine astronaut: ESA's Christer Fuglesang). And there were a couple of tweeps that seemed to build a life around this kind of events, recognizable by their paraphernalia that included custom t-shirts  and keychains with the words "tweetup" and "space" prominent and a mascotte in the form of a space-suit clad bear called Hughie:


But all of these people turned out to be quite nice and normal! The evening before the event, I had a great time as part of an informal evening drink with a few of them (including but not limited to  @travelholic, @4tuneQkie, @DanielScuka and @rtimmermans) in "Einstein" in Leiden:

 Me (right) talking with ESA's Daniel Scuka (@danielscuka, left) about Space and Neandertals with Alex Neumann (@4tuneQkie, seen on back) listening, at the #spaceborrel in Einstein (Leiden) the evening before the tweetup (photo by Eico Neumann/@Travelholic)

You see: this almost looks like normal people! ;-)

Of course, this wouldn't do, so during the tweetup ESA had us all dressed in nerdy t-shirts with the ESA logo and "#AndreTweetUp" on it  ;-)

To bring in the Wolowitz factor, one of the things they let some of us do, was remotely move a robot arm on a future moon-rover located in a lab in Italy. Below is me, giving the command "move arm to left" (no word yet whether they got the rover out of the ditch again).

My Wolowitz moment: remotely moving a robot-arm on an ESA moonrover in a lab in Italy

The program was varied and started with a presentation by ESA's Walker including music videos that amongst others Elton John had made especially for this ISS mission. Walker told that by teaming up with Elton John, the amount of website hits on the ESA mission page increased a factor 2000!

  Tweeps and their laptops (for twittering) in the Erasmus hall

Next we had a very fine video presentation by one of the attendants, Remco Timmermans (@rtimmermans on Twitter), who had travelled to Baikonur to see the launch Soyuz TMA-03M blasting off Kuipers to the ISS.

We were then split-up for a guided tour through the ESTEC facilities, including a peek in the clean-labs (where alas photography was not allowed) and a 3D presentation where we got a virtual tour "trough" the ISS.

And of course, a notable number of the attendants duly tweeted all their experiences as the day progressed (photo shows a few of them listening to an explanation at the Russian Foton capsule, and tweeting about it):

The hall where we tweeps were settled, had enough to see too, as it included amongst others a life-size mockup of the European ISS module Columbus, a genuine Foton capsule and  the genuine Atmospheric Reentry Demonstrator (ARD) capsule, the only European capsule having been to space and then re-enter and land safely:

 Atmospheric Reentry Demonstrator (ARD). This capsule (it is the original) went to space and came back

Life-size Columbus module mock-up (multiple image stitch)

Russian Foton capsule (original)

Overview of the Erasmus hall, with mock-up Columbus module

Next Swedish astronaut Christer Fuglesang lectured us on his experiences with travelling to the ISS onboard a Space Shuttle, and introduced the very varied research done onboard the ISS:

ESA astronaut Christer Fuglesang, went to space twice

And then it was time for the big moment: the live in-flight video call with Dutch astronaut André Kuipers who is flying onboard the ISS as part of the PromISSe mission. The contact happened at 15:55 UTC (17:55 CEST) while the ISS was over the Galapagos and S-America, by means of a TDRS relay.

Here are some of the lucky 10 that got to ask their question lining up:

Even a "celebrity", soap-actress Babette van Veen (worldfamous in the whole of the Netherlands), got to ask a question (at ~6:15 in the video at the bottom of this post):

Below is a video showing parts of the in-flight call (as the memory card in my camera had filled up, I had no space left to film the complete in-flight call. I thought 8 Gb was enough, but no...).

It was fun and interesting to be present at this happening, and I wish to express a sincere "Thank you!" to the people of ESA and ESTEC for organizing this day!


Daniel Fischer said...

"So I had no idea what to expect" - well, you have now. :-) And see the countless stories linked from http://www.astro.uni-bonn.de/~dfischer/blog/spacetweetup.html on what the very first SpaceTweetup on European soil was like last year.

Anonymous said...

Great blogpost! Thanks for sharing. Nice to see familiar faces, but I was surprised you don't have a picture of @4tuneQkie's #PinkLittleDragon. ;)