CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. —Fingers will be flying when space shuttle Atlantis blasts off today: About 100 of NASA's geekiest fans will be on hand, pecking away at iPhones, BlackBerrys, laptops and other Twittering gadgets.
For the first time ever, NASA last month invited its Twitter followers to sign up online for the chance to see a space shuttle launch up close.
The 100 slots — and 50 backup positions — filled in less than 20 minutes.
The two-day gathering got under way Sunday at Kennedy Space Center with talks by NASA bigwigs, including the first Twittering astronaut, Michael Massimino, aka AstroMike. The discussions were streamed live on the Internet, and the "tweetup" gathering was near the top of Twitter's trending topics Sunday morning.
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Laura Burns already has a strategy for tweeting today's launch. She figures she'll have the words typed in and her finger hovering over the button so she can send a tweet at the moment of liftoff.
"I'll have to be like juggling my iPhone and my camera and my eyes, and trying to get everything all at once," said Burns, 33, a software systems engineer from Columbia, Md.
She's using the Twitter name "moonrangerlaura" to chronicle her entire trip — including the drive to Cape Canaveral and a pit stop for MoonPies.
Nearly half the attendees are from Florida, making for an easier trip, especially if the mission ends up being delayed. Atlantis' six astronauts have thousands of pounds of spare parts to deliver to the International Space Station. The 11-day flight will keep the astronauts in orbit over Thanksgiving.
Today's launch time is 1:28 p.m. CDT. Excellent weather is forecast.
The tweeps, as they're called, represent 21 states plus the District of Columbia, as well as five countries, including Morocco and New Zealand. They're traveling on their own dime.
NASA estimates the 100 have more than 150,000 Twitter followers. It's a dream outreach program for a space agency looking to drum up support.
With only six shuttle flights remaining and still no word from the White House on a future course for astronauts, NASA is tapping into social media — Twitter, Facebook and the like — to spread its stay-in-space message.