Y’all know I adore social media and the sense of community it can create. You know how much it has meant to me in my cancer fight and my quest to parent these little boys. You probably even know that there were days (weeks?) last year when twitter, blogging, and the like were my only link to the world outside my family, when I was so immune compromised from the chemo.
What I think I didn’t fully appreciate before was the potential for instant community building using social media.
Last week, I decided to go to the launch of NASA’s newest spacecraft, Kepler. My family and I had been hoping to go for many months, actually, and I actually had a connection to the mission from years back. [I was part of the NASA Headquarters management team, when the mission was just beginning development.] I’ve been looking forward to it for a long, long time.
I even had a VIP invitation, with my name on it, and they were expecting me at KSC.
But then, a couple weeks ago my lymphedema flared up. We thought that daily treatment and wraps would get it under control, but, as it turns out, I’m allergic to the wraps. Every time we wrap my arm up now, it swells larger in reaction to the foam, or the padding, or the hydrating lotion, or something, and we’re still searching for an answer. I had decided to suck it up and make the drive anyway (flying? very bad for lymphedema, especially if the wrap isn’t right), until …
105 degree fevers struck our house.
And suddenly, instead of driving down to Florida to support the team and see the launch, I was rocking sick little boys to sleep, soaking them in tepid baths, and making strawberry smoothies to tempt their appetites.
And somehow I forgot all about the launch.
But tonight, Widget, WhyDaddy, and I cuddled up in the great big bed and watched the launch prep on our laptop screen. We explained (a bit of) what the countdown preparations entailed, pointed out the guys in mission control, and answered questions as he thought of them. We also held hands and breaths as we waited for the countdown to reach one hour, one minute, and then … one.
It was a beautiful launch.
It would have been enough just to watch it with my little family, snug as we were, but at the last I got the idea, as did hundreds (thousands?) of other people, to watch it with friends and strangers on twitter. We logged on and twittered it live, commenting along the way and supporting the team. The twitters were fast and furious, as everyone, from science geeks to media types to Florida locals, popped in with a word of support and a vicarious thrill: the Kepler spacecraft was finally going to space.
The twitterstream for #kepler is pretty amazing. Pop over and check it out if you’re interested — it went from a trickle to a deluge as we approached launch, and the diversity of tweeps was pretty amazing; women and men from all over the world were excited to see something that we built — we humans built! — launched into space, escaping the surly bonds of earth … again.
Maybe it’s the romantic in me, but I do love a spacecraft launch. There’s so much … possibility there. As a scientist, I am eagerly anticipating the observations and first announcements of early results (months from now). As a mom, I am thrilled beyond belief to have witnessed this exciting moment with my young son. And as a citizen of this planet (corny as it may sound), I am hopeful again that we can solve the pressing problems of our time.
After all, we have reached the moon and sent spacecraft out beyond the very edge of the solar system. We’ve built the internet and allowed people all over the globe to share the moment of launch, not just with telescopes and binoculars, but with video, audio, and instant feedback to the team and and around the world. We’re connecting in ways unimaginable just 20 years ago.
Surely, surely, with this kind of technology and this kind of drive, we can defeat poverty, hunger, fear … and disease.
The Kepler mission was originally selected by NASA’s Discovery Program as the tenth in a series of low-cost, short-development missions led by a single principal investigator and competitively selected by NASA through the AO process. Kepler is searching for earth-like planets around other stars.