When I first started thinking about #SPARK (our Documentary focusing on NASA, Sciences and Social Media) I was not aware of one of the coolest things that NASA does for social media members and space aficionados, they hold regular events inviting people to their various facilities to learn more about what they do, see first hand projects and missions currently underway and interact with staff currently involved in those projects.

I was lucky enough to have been one of the 50 selected attendees (out of 500 applicants) to be part of their 80th NASA Social event celebrating the Deep Space Network’s 50th Anniversary, taking place around the glove in places like Sydney, Madrid and Southern California.

On our first day of the 2-day event, we visited NASA’s JPL located in Pasadena, CA, where we got to learn all about the Deep Space Network (DSN) and how it lends a crucial hand to all missions taking place past lunar orbit.

There were quite a few highlights to this day.

 Mission Control Room

Mission Control Room

We got to sit in the same Mission Control Room in which we watched the MARS rover Curiosity safely land on the moon, it was a surreal experience.

 Dark Room

Dark Room

We also got a tour of the dark control room in which all communications from DSN are received and transmitted to various spacecraft around the universe. This room has a plaque that the DSN director aptly named the center of the Universe.

Another major highlight of day one, was being able to meet Maggie, Curiosity’s twin sister here on Earth. Maggie is an engineering model used to test software updates that need to be sent to Curiosity on Mars, allowing to work out any bugs that might arise before sending the signal through the DSN to our neighboring planet.

On the second day of the event, we got to go for a ride to the middle of the Mohave desert to the ears of the DSN, to see first hand how we can capture those signals coming from outer space as well as sending signals back, we can even monitor Near Earth Objects thanks to the DSN.

The highlight of this trip was of course the 70m wide antenna DSS14.

When we first arrived the antenna was pointed straight up into the heavens, which happens to be its resting position, and while it was an impressive view, NASA was courteous enough to rotate the antenna to truly capture it’s massive diameter and allowing us to gaze at it in greater detail.

It was quite an amazing view, which I managed to record for the documentary (stay tuned for that,) and it was truly incredible to be able to appreciate the level of detail that goes into making sure this network is perfectly tuned in order to capture signals coming from 35 million lightyears away.

It was an incredible event that I feel extremely lucky to have been a part off and I feel incredibly thankful for all the support shown for the documentary from all the social media members as well as members of the NASA staff.

 Photo by NASA/JPL

Photo by NASA/JPL

I’m currently hard at work on editing all the great footage and interviews I was able to capture and I hope to have something to show everyone in the near future, in the meantime, I hope you enjoy some of the pictures of the #DSN50 event.