Local entrepreneur and social media guru David Hinson traveled to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas last week to update, tweet and post about NASA’s first flight test of the Orion spacecraft.

Orion is a space exploration vehicle built for safe re-entry from deep space return velocities. In the future, Orion will be launched from the Space Launch System, a rocket powerful enough to send astronauts to deep space destinations like asteroids and eventually Mars.

Hinson was among the social media followers who were selected to take part in the first NASA Social in which all 10 NASA field centers participated in a two-day event leading up to the launch of Orion.

The NASA Social program, formerly called NASA Tweetup, brings thousands of social media followers together to learn more about the nation’s space program, and get the word out in a unique way.

"It’s a way for citizen journalists to get people talking about NASA," Hinson said.

Hinson experienced his first NASA Tweetup in 2009 when he went to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral Florida for STS-129, a NASA mission to the International Space Station, in which he interacted with astronauts the first day, and saw the launch of Atlantis the next.

Last week, about 30 social media followers were invited to the Johnson Space Center, where they learned about the center’s role in NASA’s Journey to Mars.

Johnson Space Center is the lead NASA center for the International Space Station, home to the NASA Astronaut Corps, responsible for training space explorers from the U.S. and International Space Station partner nations, and home to the Mission Control Center, which directs all space shuttle missions.

The Mission Control Center is registered as a National Historic Landmark as the facility that provided support for nine Gemini and all Apollo flights, including Apollo 11, when Neil Armstrong completed the first manned landing on the moon speaking the famous words, "That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."

Hinson described the experience of being in the Mission Control Center as interesting yet surreal.

"Growing up with the space program," Hinson said, "I’ve always been a space nerd, so it was so exciting to actually be there."

Hinson said he got a real sense of scale, as he’s only seen the control center on television broadcasts or representations of it in movies.

The control center also had human touches, he said, like the mirror from the Aquarius Lunar Module on Apollo 13, used to view the gas venting from the command module after the explosion abroad Apollo 13.

There’s a framed plaque under the mirror that reads, "Returned by a grateful Apollo 13 crew to ‘reflect the image’ of the people in Mission Control who got us back!"

"While it’s a historic event, it’s also just people going to work — people who helped these astronauts get home," Hinson said.

Hinson was also able to get a behind-the-scenes tour of a mockup of the Orion Spacecraft, and the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, which simulates zero gravity for astronaut training.

Astronaut Lee Morin explained and demonstrated a mockup of Orion’s inside control interfaces. The mockup uses 3D printing technology to make up the buttons and joysticks, Hinson said.

The inside control panels are still being designed and NASA is working with astronauts like Morin to make changes to solidify controls, Hinson said.

Some social media followers were given the opportunity to virtually dock Orion to the International Space Station. Hinson didn’t get the chance, but said it’s probably harder than it looks.

NASA Social participants were given the opportunity to use their hashtag skills at a two-hour press conference with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Orion Program Manager Mark Geyer.

Since it’s not always encouraged, Hinson said it was neat being at an event that’s designed for people to be on their phones or taking pictures.

Hinson said he was surprised to see several hundred people who came to the space center at 5 a.m. just to watch Orion’s launch on the big screen.

Although Orion didn’t launch the next day as planned due to strong winds and a wayward boat that drifted into the designated launch area, Hinson was able to watch the launch from his laptop in Conway.

To see more of Hinson’s NASA Social experience visit his social media accounts @davidjhinson.

To view a slideshow of Hinson's NASA Social pictures visit beta.spotted.thecabin.net. 

(Staff writer Michelle Corbet can be reached by email at michelle.corbet@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1212. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)