I am one of the biggest fan girls when it comes to anything relating to science or outer space, so when there was an opportunity to report via social media for the European Space Agency’s (ESA) #ExoMars mission, I dropped everything, parked the bike and swapped pushie power for rocket fuel. I was off to Darmstadt, Germany because, when space calls… you go!
Let me explain what all the fuss is about: This social media space quest of mine started a few years ago. I was invited by NASA to attend a NASASocial event. NASASocial is one of those “chance of a lifetime” experiences where social media influencers and bloggers from around the world are invited to come together and report what’s happening at NASA though different social media channels. (My personal favourites are Twitter, Instagram, Periscope, and Taraustralis.com) It’s very safe to say that NASASocial changed my life and I am extremely grateful. With this in mind, and my love for all things science and space, I will absolutely drop everything to be a part of it – and I did. The pictures below are from NASA’s NASASocial and the ESA’s SocialSpaceWA social media events.
After a bit of an exciting journey to Darmstadt, Germany – aka understatement of the year because I totally got #RyanAired… I spaced out at the ESA’s Operations headquarters for the ExoMars Mission. This is where engineering teams “control spacecraft in orbit, manage our global tracking station network, and design and build the systems on the ground that support missions in space” …and they’ve been doing it since 1967. I got my media credentials sorted and I was on the social media beat! It was just a short walk over to where all the space press cadets (sorry, I REALLY wanted to go there) from around the world were hanging out. There was a multitude of different languages being spoken, laptops galore and more videocameras than you can shake a stick at.
Chairs were lined up like a classroom around a stage. And, the screen to the right is where we could watch the ESA’s social media broadcasts in real time. And, like any space presser I’ve been to, there’s printed mission information and the ever amazing swag!
Just off to the side of the stage was a room full of food – yassss! This is where I found a machine that closely resembled the ISSpresso. The ISSpresso is the International Space Station’s one and only coffee espresso machine and it lives there – in space… like actual space. Basically, it’s the only space espresso machine in the universe (that we know of, but SETI is working on finding that out for us). So after a bit of fiddling, trying to figure out how to work this coffee machine with a videographer from Japan, we clinked our paper cups – and there were cheers all around! Then, there was a moment where I was doing a very well deserved golf clap. Ya see, the ESA broke out the Mars bars. Oh yes. They went there… Well played, ESA… Well played.
Throughout the day, we were being drip-fed information and this was incredibly exciting because we were discovering what was going on with the ExoMars mission in real-time. All seemed to be going along as planned.
Then, we were upgraded to a larger room and boy was it huge. I reckon it sat well over 1,000 people. It was pretty impressive. I felt like I was at the EuroVision Final… for space, and this was the amazing act everybody was waiting for.
Regarding the mission, there were two things going on with ExoMars that we were waiting to find out: Arrival to Mars and landing of Schiaparelli. This was a seven-month journey in the making and a lot was riding on this. I had a look to see how social media was going with #ExoMars and it was trending like mad across Europe!
Ok, so then we live crossed to the data coming in from ExoMars. The image on the left is the before. Image on the right is exactly what they were after. This meant the data everyone was waiting for was coming in.
The ESA was receiving the signal they were looking for. Step one in this two step mission was a success and there were hugs all around!
You could just feel the love! It was pretty awesome. However, we were still waiting to find out the fate of Schiaparelli. We were all still wondering, did Schiaparelli stick the landing? There was a break for us to grab a bite of eat, some coffee and just have a little moment to relax from all the awesome “science” that just happened.
They called us back to the big room – I was actually extremely excited and expected some great news regarding Schiaparelli, but they said that there was no new information – we would have to wait until morning to find out more. What did this mean? Was it a success? Did it make it to Mars in one piece? Then, I started to question:
The next day, we found out the fate of the poor little guy. Something happened during the six minutes of terror aka entry into the Mars atmosphere. Mars isn’t too forgiving when it comes to landing on the red planet. I wouldn’t say that Mars eats missions, but Schiaparelli did not survive the entry – it basically went splat. Have a look at all the missions to Mars that have failed and succeeded.
So what did I take from this? Space is hard. Space is REALLY hard. And, I think that’s just one of the many reasons why us humans choose to do it. We’re all dreamers and explorers in our own right. Space is also romantic. It’s the stuff dreams are made from. When was the last time you looked up at the stars and wondered what was really out there? You probably did it yesterday without even knowing.
With space, it’s awe-inspiring to see how us humans come together: for the sole purpose of achieving greatness. Space is not something you can do on your own – a bunch of people need to be involved. It’s truly an inspiration… and that inspiration, if we choose to embrace it, lives inside every one of us; we are capable of so much. That’s why I agree with Elon Musk when he says, “…it is possible for ordinary people to choose to be extraordinary.”
A girl gone walkabout in the great big world!