Student Attends Shuttle Launch

A St. John’s student was selected to witness the second to last space shuttle launch up close and personal, when he traveled to Cape Canaveral April 29.

Michael Yarbrough was one of the 150 people selected for the NASA Tweetup, which allowed a select few to see the space shuttle Endeavour launch firsthand and blog and tweet about the event. The Tweetup began on April 26 and ran through April 29.

“To be selected out of the thousands of applicants as one of the 150 attendees is an extraordinary privilege,” he said.

Yarbrough first learned of the event on NASA’s official Twitter page and found a registration form on a separate page for the event. Yarbrough said to his knowledge that roughly 5,000 people applied but only he and 149 others were selected for the event. The goal, he said, was to have the attendees promote the space program and keep readers informed on its operations.

Yarbrough explained that he needed to get clearance from NASA to attend the event, and was given media credentials to view it from Kennedy Space Center. There, Yarbrough saw parts of the space center that are normally not open to the public.  

Yarbrough, a junior, said he has been interested in NASA since he was young. As a child growing up in Chicago, Yarbrough said, he would often ask his parents to visit the Adler Planetarium whenever they were in the downtown area.

He said that shuttle launches are more than sending astronauts into space. They also serve greater scientific purposes.

“The space program is so much more than simply firing people into a 13,000-plus mph orbit around the planet,” he said. “The innovation that takes place for necessary space program technology drives development of various domestic technologies.”

Because of the event, Yarbrough said his activity on Twitter has increased from just being a “casual” user. Yarbrough, whose twitter name is @mikeyarbrough, has become an active user and frequently speaks to other attendees.

The mission, labeled STS-134, has not only received much coverage as the one of the last shuttle launches, but also because Mark Kelly, the husband of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, will command the 14-day mission. Giffords was shot during a public appearance at a Tuscon supermarket in January. Kelly, who was at Giffords’ side during her recovery, has spent a total of 38 days in space, according to a NASA press release on the mission.  

Yarbrough’s trip to the shuttle launch is one of the several exciting plans he has for this summer. In addition to studying primates in Costa Rica this summer for his senior thesis project, Yarbrough will spend 10 weeks backpacking across Europe as a blogger for the Huffington Post.

Yarbrough presented the Huffington Post website with a project where he would travel on a budget of $100 per day. The goal of the trip, Yarbrough said, is to show college students how to travel with only limited funds.