Thursday, March 17, 2011

Highs and Lows: The tale of a NASA Tweetup e-mail

I logged onto my personal e-mail on Tuesday and saw a message from Aleya, this weekend's "Sun Earth Day Tweetup Wrangler."  I of course opened it with the excitement of a 5 year old on Christmas morning and started to read.

The message starts out with "Sun Earth Day is rapidly approaching; I hope all plans are going smoothly. We have two things for you to do in preparation for your day."  Preparation? OK, I have been to a NASA Tweetup this should be easy. I know my NASA stuff...not a problem.

The e-mail continues with "The first is a survey." Huh! That's simple. I fill out surveys all the time, I love sharing my opinion! (There's a surprise for with an opinion.) The note further explains why NASA wants to gather this data and confirms the data gatherer is "OK." They have "checked her out and approve." Excellent, but I trust Aleya and the NASA Tweetup crew. If they want me to do a survey, I will do it.

The paragraph continues with "Please complete this pre-event questionnaire. Please be honest in your answers, and do not Google anything! (Honor system!!)" WHAT? It's a questionnaire now? OK, stay calm, you know your NASA stuff I tell myself.  Then I read the last line again. Do not Google? Honor system? This interesting, why would I need Google? Why are we on the honor system? (Pause here to ponder these two statements.)

I click the link (now you should hear a menacing clicking sound in your mind, just like I did) to see what type of questions await me.

The window pops open showing me the first few questions...relief sets in. Name, age, zip code...all standard demographic info and most importantly, they are easy to answer.  Then a few questions about my tweeting, hobbies, and use of NASA content. No problem! My fingers fly across the keyboard (OK, to be honest, they don't really fly...I hunt and peck with 2, sometimes 3 fingers. Typing is not a skill I possess.) I was up (getting the e-mail), then down (a questionnaire or "test"?), and now I'm up (easy questions). This is crazy, letting an e-mail take me for a ride on an emotional roller coaster. (OK, your right, that last statement was a little dramatic. But you get the point.)

Why would anyone need Google to look up these answers? I scroll down to the next set of questions.

Question 1 - Name the NASA Centers - OK, I can see why some people may need to Google this. But not me. I start typing without thinking: Ames, JPL, Langley, KSC, Marshall, Stennis, Glenn, JSC, Dryden, of course Goddard...and then I stop. My brain freezes. There's more, but I'm drawing a blank. Panic sets in, I know my NASA stuff, I should be able to do this. Is this stage fright? I tell myself to calm down. Breath. Am I freaking out because my fingers stopped typing or is my mind playing tricks because it knows I can't use Google?  Either way, my fingers are on strike.  There will be no more letters spelling out the names of NASA Centers for this question.  Why is this happening to me? Time to regroup and move on to question 2; I will come back to this question later. So I clear my head and scroll down.

Question 2 - Describe at least three projects from Goddard - Easy...this is the Sun Earth Day Tweetup.  SDO is first on my list. Then SOHO...another easy one SOHO has solar and helio in its name. Then I type HST…Hubble Space I'm on a roll. But, it happens again...stage fright? Nervousness? Or do I really not know my NASA stuff? CRAP! Think! At this point my fingers are refusing to work and my brain is saying "_____ (insert expletive here) you, you don't know this stuff” (sadly this is the battle I do with my thoughts sometimes). I tell myself, relax this is not a test, it's just a few questions to see what the group knows and doesn't know so NASA can make the most out of the tweetup (my brain laughs at me and says you know that’s a BS line…I have to agree, I’m trying to fool myself, this is a test of sorts). Think! Think! Think! Yes, Operation Ice Bridge….another one down. Now we are back to listing Goddard projects! Next…OK fingers, brain...I said next. Hello? Next project please. Nothing. CRAP! What do I do? Should I quit? Bow out of the tweetup? Let someone who is more knowledgeable than me attend? I can't do that. I'm not a quitter...nor am I a cheater. No Google, no quitting. Next question.

Question 3 - Name at least three space scientists or ... - That's it. We’re done. Cooked! There is more to this question, but I'm embarrassed to admit, I can't name a single space scientist, not without Google at least. I know Space Shuttles, Apollo missions, the astronauts, the ISS, even some of the planetary missions (like MESSENGER which is about to orbit Mercury, the Mars rovers, Voyager, New Horizons, Mariner, etc...). But I don't know the people behind these projects...the scientists, engineers, and astronomers that make these missions possible. I'm really disappointed in myself. Moving on to the next question.

Question 4 - Describe the Sun - Easy! Center of our solar system, closest star, a giant ball of burning hydrogen. Then it happens again, my fingers stop the alphabet dance. What else do I know about the Sun? Is that really it? Why do I know so little? I studied in school. Have I lost some knowledge on my journey through life? Crap this is not looking question please.

Question 5 - Describe the Sun's impact on Earth - OK this is easy. The Sun is a critical provider of light energy. This light, a by-product of nuclear fusion, make things like photosynthesis possible. It also impacts our weather, the seasons, and even our emotions (come on, who is not happier on a bright, warm, sunny day). Is that it? Nope. I know there is a more detailed, educated, response...but it’s not coming from me today. _____ (insert another expletive here) Next!

Question 6 - Describe what one past civilization that has used technology to understand the Sun and the Universe - Easy? Nope. I'm done. I can't think of one. Aztecs, Mayans, Greeks, the Egyptians all pop into my head, but the one that used technology to understand the Sun? Nothing, blank, empty. OK it's time to be honest with myself.  I just don't have the knowledge I should have about the Sun, its impact on us, its history, or the people that have studied it, both past and present.

There are a few more questions that I go on to answer with the same crappy results.  More blank space than words describing answers.  Let's just say I’m at the low point of this whole e-mail.  I'm really bothered that I could not bang out these answers without the help of Google.  Maybe it's time to "go back to school" and re-learn what it appears I have forgotten.

I could just leave my mind and heart at this level of disappointment but that's not me. I think I will take this new found revelation (that is my lack of knowledge) and go learn something (that's an interesting idea huh?). One of NASA's big initiatives today is stimulating interest in science, math, engineering, and technology and I understand why they want to do that. We are a civilization of explorers, seekers of knowledge, a form of life that searches for and overcomes challenges. I lack (or lost some) of my knowledge and skills along the path of life, but that does not mean I can’t participate. I can and I will! (Insert mood improvement here.)

By becoming more educated myself (and remember you are never too old to learn, don't feel like this stuff is just for the youth) I can help move forward NASA's goal of engaging the next generation of scientists, engineers, and dreamers of the future. I will get the opportunity to learn (or re-learn in some cases) something about NASA's science missions on March 19th, 2011 at the Sun Earth Day NASA Tweetup. And the best part of all is I can tweet (also known as - educate, collaborate, share knowledge, and inspire others) while I’m learning myself. I can't wait!

Look for my tweets at:

And be sure to check back here for more posts over the weekend. I will be trying a mobile iPad App to post quick and dirty reports about the tweetup.



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