Jenifer Olson graciously agreed to write an article for Random Acts of Leadership based on her experience with the recent space shuttle Discovery launch. She provides us a very personal walk through the history of the space shuttle program and an opportunity at the end of this post that you don’t want to miss since it’s only available through noon ET 3/15/2011!
On Randomness…“I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floatin’ around accidental-like on a breeze. But I, I think maybe it’s both.” ~Forrest Gump (Photo: Jim Champion, Source: Flickr, via Wylio.com)
Attending the STS-133 NASA Tweetup and launch of space shuttle Discovery was an incredible honor and the thrill of a lifetime. A lifelong space enthusiast living within an hour of Kennedy Space Center, I was ecstatic when NASA confirmed I was “randomly” selected from among thousands of people across the world to witness Discovery’s final sojourn to the stars.
To me, my selection didn’t feel random at all. I had a hunch I was meant to do this. And the fact you’re reading this right now? Maybe it’s not a coincidence, either. Read on…
From the X-15 to the Space Shuttle…
I came along at the perfect time in history to witness the U.S. space age growth and be part of it. The year I was born, a special research projects panel for NASA’s predecessor signed an agreement to develop the rocket-powered X-15. The X-15s flew 199 missions over a span of nearly 10 years, gathering valuable data that would ultimately be used by NASA and others to help develop U.S. space programs ranging from Mercury to the space shuttle.
The space shuttle was approved as a national program in 1972, the year I graduated high school. Five years and a college degree later, I moved from the northeast to the Space Coast to live with my cousin and look for my first professional position. In the years to come, my cousin’s husband, brother, brother-in-law and step-father would all work at Kennedy Space Center and Patrick AFB on different facets of shuttle launch and security.
Space shuttles became a family affair!
Columbia had the honors of making the first shuttle flight in 1981. By this time, I was living and working in Orlando, where I was able to see nearly every shuttle launch and hear the startling sonic booms as the orbiters flew home across the Florida peninsula to KSC. To this day, the sound of a shuttle coming home makes me jump, smile and thank God, all at once!
Sadly, I saw Challenger break apart in 1986, and waited for the twin sonic booms that never came when we lost Columbia in 2003. But I also witnessed space shuttle Discovery’s triumphant return to flight in 1988 and again in 2005, following both tragic accidents.
Discovery was the grand lady of the space shuttle program. Besides returning the U.S. to space after both shuttle accidents, Discovery reigned as the oldest orbiter in service, flying more miles and carrying more crew members than any other vehicle.
This illustrious flying machine had many firsts, including the first cosmonaut to fly on an American spacecraft, the first sitting member of Congress to fly in space and the oldest person to fly in space. She also carried the first female to ever pilot a spacecraft and was also the mission shuttle the first time two female commanders were in space at the same time.
Now, you might say my being invited to attend the STS-133 NASA Tweetup was a random coincidence, and you might be right. But then I would have to tell you that the person who helped make it possible for me to attend the event was someone I met on Twitter, someone who hired me to develop a Website about… wait for it… Amelia Earhart, the most famous female pilot in history at http://searchforamelia.org. I started following NASA on Twitter when I created a social media profile last year to help launch the Amelia site, and that’s how I learned of the Tweetup.
Also consider that on June 17, 2010, the watch that Amelia Earhart wore on both of her historic Atlantic crossings was brought aboard the International Space Station by astronaut Shannon Walker, 82 years to the day of Amelia’s first flight. Earhart’s watch arrived at the station onboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, which docked with the ISS as the two vehicles were “coincidentally” flying over the Atlantic Ocean. It’s still there.
Discovery’s Last Dance…
The 2010 NASA Tweetup was an amazing experience, from start to finish. Besides having the incredible opportunity to meet many Twitter friends in real life, we were treated to presentations from NASA executives and astronauts, given VIP access to the press site, toured the launch pad and more. And although we were disappointed when Discovery’s flight was postponed, we were all invited back to witness her spectacular launch from Kennedy Space Center on February 24, 2011.
Launch day the second time around was incredible, filled with exciting presentations and breathtaking drama right up until Discovery’s sensational lift-off. Oh, and guess who the surprise speaker was about an hour before the launch? It was none other than Shannon Walker, the astronaut who carried the Amelia Earhart watch to the ISS last year for The Ninety-Nines International Organization of Woman Pilots (Amelia was a founder and their first president). A wonderful coincidence, don’t you think?
Postscript: The Discovery vehicle and crew returned to KSC on March 9th after a flawless mission. Since I still live near Orlando, I knew she was home safely when I heard her twin sonic booms as she passed overhead.
Well done, lady Discovery!
Now It’s YOUR Chance!
Are you ready for your chance of a lifetime to see a space shuttle launch, too? Well then, it’s no coincidence you’re reading this now. Click on the link below to learn how you can register from noon ET today, March 14th through noon ET March 15th, to be among those selected for the STS-134 NASA Tweetup and launch of space shuttle Endeavour targeted for April 19,2011! It’s her final flight before retirement and the next to last shuttle mission ever! Good luck!
Jenifer Olson consults with organizations throughout the U.S. to design and deliver senior-level marketing communications. For nearly 20 years she has worked in a wide range of industries including consumer products and services, education and e-learning, travel and most recently, philanthropy. A social media enthusiast, she Tweets about marketing, communications, pr and much more via @jenajean.