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Staking The Plains goes to NASA

About a month ago my stepson Nathan Kyer sent me a message urging me to apply to the following link…

I followed the link to the official NASA website. On the government site it read the following –

Are you passionate about all things space, football and social media? Then don’t miss the opportunity to join our NASA Social event at Johnson Space Center in Houston on Feb. 1, the week leading up to Super Bowl LI.

We are inviting 50 social media users to apply for credentials to join us to get a special insider’s look at the central hub of human space exploration and to share their experience with the world!

During this behind-the-scenes tour, attendees will visit real-world examples of astronaut training, deep space technologies, our new Orion spacecraft, which will carry humans on a journey to Mars, and current work aboard the International Space Station. NASA has 10 field centers across the country, and the work being done at NASA’s center in Houston is a major component in helping expand the frontier of space exploration.

I thought, what the heck… sure I would apply. Why wouldn’t NASA want DanSwany of Staking The Plains to take part in this glorious tour? Next I read,

This event is designed for people who:

– actively use multiple social networking platforms and tools to disseminate information to a unique audience
– regularly produce new content that features multimedia elements
– have the potential to reach a large number of people using digital platforms
– reach a unique audience, separate and distinctive from traditional news media and/or NASA audiences
– have an established history of posting content on social media platforms
– have previous postings that are highly visible, respected and widely recognized

Well, okay maybe having posts that were highly visible, respected and widely recognized might be a stretch. Yet, I still thought why not still go for it? I wrote a compelling essay that was extremely passionate talking about my engineering background and love of science and technology, along with my love of sports and Texas Tech University. I wrote about the blog from our SB Nation days, to Seth breaking off and creating Staking The Plains. I also discussed the band of loyal members that frequent our site, and that I believed it was the perfect audience that would love to hear about the behind the scenes action at NASA.

I had to enter on the NASA application my twitter handle along with Staking The Plains, the STP Facebook page, and of course this site as my references to register. I submitted my application with only 15 minutes remaining on the deadline to apply. It was submission application #35,840 for the event. Only one entry per person, and only 50 applications would be selected. The odds of getting picked were not in my favor, so I went back to my everyday life sort of forgetting about the event until 10 days later.

Exactly 10 days after I sent off my application, I received an email in my work inbox that NASA had selected me to attend the #SpaceBowl #NASASocial. Yes, Staking The Plains would be credentialed to go on the VIP tour of NASA!!! I could not believe what I was reading. I had to answer a series of questions, verify registration information, and wait for NASA clearance.

6 days later I received my clearance, instructions, and agenda. We were going to a live in-flight event to have a discussion with Astronauts Peggy Whitson and Shane Kimbrough aboard the international space station. The event was simulcast on NASA TV and Facebook Live on the International Space Station page. How awesome is that?

When I arrived to NASA the day of the tour, a large group formed outside the Space Center and we were escorted inside to check-in to the event. Among others there I saw a writer for How Stuff Works, the editor for The Golf Channel, National Geographic, BBC, the Rod Ryan Show, the Senior Lead of Social Media at Microsoft, and Tony Siragusa from Yahoo Sports. I had on my Texas Tech collared shirt to proudly represent our school and STP.

NASA personnel quickly gathered us all up, and checked our identification before allow us to proceed with the group. We were ushered into the Space Center Theater, where we sat and had introductions. We all wrote down our questions to ask Peggy Whitson and Shane Kimbrough, and NASA vetted through them to pick the top questions.

Of course mine did not get selected, but it was a little more sensitive in nature. I am sure NASA did not want the astronauts to answer it on live TV without rehearsal. My question had to do with the psychological effects while aboard the space station, and with the stressful environment what was the procedure if one of the crew members had an episode that put themselves or another colleague in danger? Yeah, they threw my question aside.

The good thing is that my question would be answered later on in the tour when I talked to a different astronaut. But, back to the space station live NASA TV and Facebook event. It was just amazing to sit in the theater and watch Peggy Whitson and Shane Kimbrough talk to our group. These two were orbiting about 250 miles above our planet while we sat in a room in Houston and asked them questions. Here is the full video –

After the talk with the Space Station, we were called into 3 different groups to tour around NASA. I went down to talk with astronaut Leland Melvin before going to join my group. He had been one of the welcome speakers to us upon arrival. Melvin was an engineer that had been an astronaut for two Space Shuttle Atlantis missions. Also, he had played college football at University of Richmond and was selected in the NFL draft to the Detroit Lions. He left the NFL due to injury, and went back to school to eventually end up as a NASA missions specialist. His story was remarkable, and he gave a short speech about his path forward in his career. Loved my time with the guy.

We moved outside to the buses and were split into our 3 groups. My group had the pleasure of visiting the Neutral Buoyancy Lab. The NBL was where astronauts train for spacewalks in a pool of 6.2 million gallons of water that helped simulate microgravity. Under water there are many different modules including full mockups of the international space station, and space shuttle equipment. We talked to astronaut Victor Glover, who is also a F/A-18 pilot and commander in the Navy. His story about the NBL was fascinating, as he explained all the components and unusual feelings you experience while training in the pool. He compared the NBL training to football with all the preparation it takes during practice to actually be ready come “game-time”. I learned a lot from him, as he was vastly knowledgeable about how to prepare for a space mission.

 

 

 

 

Our next tour the buses took us was the Mission Control Center. Here we meet with astronaut Doug Wheelock. He had a distinguished career at NASA, including a shuttle mission aboard the Discovery and being the commander aboard the international space station. Inside the Mission Control Center we went to observe FCR-1, it is the control room for operations aboard the international space station.

 

Wheelock explained the hardships of going for extended periods of time into space. Which led to his account of being in the space station. It is here that he talked about feeling isolated when you look down upon your home planet. I saw my opportunity to ask about the psychological effects of the human brain and space. He explained that they were trained to watch out for each other, and if somebody seemed to be feeling a little down, it was up to the others to make them feel included and engaged. They had “movie nights”, and as commander he made the entire crew of 6 always eat dinner together. He said they would switch off and dine American one evening, and then Russian the next. Always changing to various parts of the spacecraft.

I asked a question about if someone became mentally unstable and was a danger to themselves or others, how as it dealt with if someone needed to be contained. I distinctly used the term “space prison”, drawing a few chuckles from the media and even Wheelock himself. He said there was a procedure to deal with that. And, the crew always had a capsule to drop someone down to Earth 250 miles below at any time.

We then journeyed over to the MOCR 1, which is where the historic Apollo missions were controlled from. It was amazing to be standing where so many profound past events had taken place. I had to sit in the mission director chair…

 

Our last big event of the tour was traveling to the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility. It was here that we went through the training facilities that the astronauts use to get a hands on with full scale modules before going on a mission. We went inside the mockup of the international space station, and of the Orion vehicle that will carry astronauts to Mars. There were many other cool things we saw being experimented on while in the facility, take a look for yourself…

 

 

 

 

It was after that where we loading up and headed back to the NASA Space Center. We started at the Space Center around 7:30am, and did not finish our media tour until 1pm. There are many more items that I have left off or did not get to photo. Yet, I will never forget my day at NASA with my Staking The Plains credentials.

I met two Red Raiders along the way during the day… and we seemed to stick together most of the time. Because that’s what Red Raiders do.

I would like to give a humongous thanks to NASA and Staking The Plains for making it possible for this to happen. I cannot wait until my next adventure, but it may never top my #NASASocial #SpaceBowl tour… Wreck ’em Tech!!!

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