The thing you're not prepared for, I was warned, is how loud it is. The sonic boom-like sound during the ascent is much different in person than on TV, he said. Another told me I'd literally be able to smell the shuttle lifting off. One more advised me to wear sunglasses, since the flames could be brighter than the sun. (I didn't, but I was OK.)
But most of all, I and my fellow #NASAtweetup attendees were told this weekend to resist the urge to make media of the moment. Don't take photos of it. Don't be on the phone, or watch it through the viewfinder of your handheld camera. Just watch, feel and listen. Have the real experience of watching the last NASA Space Shuttle launch ever.
These are instructions that I (being in this business) and my 150-or-so fellow space geeks needed, especially since we were invited specifically because of our use of Twitter. For instance, when arriving in our group tent on Thursday morning, yards away from the Kennedy Space Center countdown clock, virtually all of us dispensed with a few pleasantries before quickly cracking open our laptops and logging on. But as the tweetup went on, we met astronauts, stood in awe inside the Vehicle Assembly Building and trekked to a spot less than a mile from Atlantis itself. Yes, I took that photo so that I could remember in 50 years that I was there. But I spent most of my time facing the other direction, slack-jawed.
The urge for all of us to make media of our experiences is becoming increasingly intuitive, especially in this new digital age. Every thought can be recorded for posterity, information is being shared at an unprecedented rate and short films can be shot and edited on a telephone. That said, what was most impressive about this weekend's experience, aside from the massive dose of NASA awesome that we received, was the manner in which it discouraged us from that new intuition.
Yes, we still photographed, blogged, and live-tweeted a good chunk of it. Media was made. But #NASAtweetup reminded me that divorcing oneself from technology to witness something marvelous can help one rediscover why it mattered enough that we picked up our cameras or got on Twitter in the first place. Sharing the experience is one thing. Having it is quite another. Lesson learned.