Tweeps gather for a photo beneath the magnificent 70-metre dish at the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex
Photo: Martin Ollman - CSIRO/CDSCC

CSIRO Tweetup: Mars Science Laboratory
A Spectacular Launch to Mars marked the end of a Spectacular Tweetup

Monday, 28 November 2011
All good things come to an end...but for the very first CSIRO Tweetup, no one really wanted it to.

Thirty six and a half hours after it began, the tweetup signed off following the launch of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission and the acquisition of the spacecraft's signal through the antennas of the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex.

A bunch of tired tweeps went off to sleep before heading home to places around Australia and overseas. Even before they left however, many were talking about getting together again for when Curiosity lands on Mars in August 2012.

"That's certainly something we can consider doing" said Tweetup host, Glen Nagle. "This whole experience has created something new and exciting in the way we communicate science with the public. Getting people directly involved in these events and allowing them to share that experience with potentially tens of thousands of other people online is what a tweetup is all about. The more we do this, the more the public will come to appreciate that science plays an important part in their life on Earth, even when we are going off to explore Mars."

An Atlas rocket launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida carrying the Mars rover Curiosity. Photo: NASA/KSC

Discovering space explorers all around us
One of the highlights of the CSIRO Tweetup was the fantastic line-up of guest presenters. Scientists and researchers working in diverse fields from planetary geology and gravitational mapping, to deep space astrophysics and stratospheric ballooning, and from studying tiny specks of asteroidal dust to the infinite structure of the universe itself.

The success of the Tweetup was in no small way due to these speakers who were so willing to give their time and to share with us their passion for science and provide insights into the work they do.

It was a surprise to some at the event that there was so much going on in Australian science and many wondered why we don't hear more about it. There are so many great stories to be told and so much to be proud of. "Maybe we should have a permanent #ScienceTweetup to tell everyone what's happening." suggested one attendee.

Being science geeks, it was wonderful to discover that real space explorers are all around us.

Dr Daniel Shaddock

Research Interests:
• Classical And Physical Optics
• Quantum Optics, Lasers And Quantum Electronics • Astronomical And Space Instrumentation
• General Relativity And Gravitational Waves
• Stellar Astronomy And Planetary Systems

Dr Paul Tregoning
B. Surv., PhD
Australian National University

Research Interests:
• Photogrammetry And Remote Sensing
• Gravimetrics • Water Resources Engineering
• Physical Oceanography • Tectonics • Geodesy
• Tropospheric And Stratospheric Physics
• Atmospheric Sciences • Geophysics
• Environmental Science And Management
• Geomatic Engineering

Ms Marion Anderson
B.Sc. Monash

Research Interests:
• Geochemistry of Yarra Valley billabongs
• Mineralogy and geomorphology of Mars
• Early evolution of life

Mr Robert Hollow
BSc (UNSW) Dip Ed

Research Interests:
• Coordinator of CSIRO's PULSE@Parkes program
• Student investigations using real astronomy data Citizen science projects

Dr Ravi Sood
PhD Astrophysics

Research Interests:
• X-ray astronomy instruments for use on space-borne and stratospheric balloon payloads
• Multi-wavelength study of selected neutron star and black-hole X-ray binaries
• Stratospheric balloon flights for scientific research

Dr Trevor Ireland
BSc(Hons) University of Otago, NZ

Research Interests:
• Application of ion microprobes to the understanding of the isotopic nature of materials at the microscale
• Characterisation of provenance of dust grains in the early solar system
• Analysis of lunar soil for implanted solar wind
• Analysis of refractory meteorite components for evidence of the characteristics of the solar nebula

Thank you
A huge thanks to all our brilliant speakers. We were excited to have you with us and cannot say enough about how grateful we were that you came by and shared your science with us.

A funny moment when tweeps pointed skyward "Hey Curiosity, Mars is thataway or maybe thataway!" Photo: CDSCC

Nothing could dampen our tweeps enthusiasm
The weather wasn't always on our side during the Tweetup. In fact the Friday afternoon was downright bad - cold and wet. But nothing could dampen our tweeps enthusiasm.

Despite the downpour they all still wanted to take the site tour. Huddled under umbrellas or wearing plastic raincoats, they braved the elements to take a closer look at the 70-metre dish - Deep Space Station 43.

The weather was in one way a blessing because we were afforded the chance to show everyone the main Operations Room through its viewing gallery windows. The nerve centre of the Complex, each of the antennas is controlled from that room - "Sort of air-traffic control for space", Glen said.

The 24-hour delay for Curiosity's launch meant that our Saturday morning schedule changed slightly and gave us an extra hour in the morning. As if by some miracle, just after breakfast the skies cleared and so we headed back to the Complex from our accommodation just down the road to enjoy a walking tour in beautiful sunshine.

The whole Complex put on a show with all the dishes moving at exactly the right times so we could watch each glide smoothly around to link up to and communicate with spacecraft hundreds of millions of kilometres away. You couldn't have planned it better. The planets literally aligned for us that morning.

CLICK TO ENLARGE. Tweeps gather in front of DSS43 - the largest dish in the southern hemisphere Photo: Martin Ollman - CSIRO

New traditions
The original schedule had the Tweetup finishing on Saturday at 3pm, but with the launch slip the organisers decided to extend the event until the launch which was scheduled for Sunday 27th at 2.02am local time.

Not everyone could stay however, as some had fixed travel arrangements that couldn't be changed. Most though were able to extend their stay and so following the afternoon talks at the CSIRO Discovery centre in town, a few headed off to explore Canberra's fantastic museums and galleries, while others preferred to relax, eat and talk with their fellow space tweep alumni.

Something of a tradition at the NASA and JPL Tweetups is the so called 'endless bbq'. One of the attendees had been a part of the tweetup for the final Space Shuttle mission and had enjoyed the company that this side event brings. A suitable location was found in Canberra and a few 'toasts' kicked off this 'imported' but new tradition downunder. Thanks @astro_geeky

Waiting for launch
Returning to the tracking station on Saturday evening, we settled in to watch the launch.

The hours ticked by and we regularly checked reports from NASA launch blogs and scanned weather reports at the Cape. Around 11pm coverage began on NASA TV which was up on the big screen in the CDSCC Visitor Centre.

At the same time, we noticed that the CSIRO-CDSCC staff were coming in to begin final preparations for the Complex's crucial communication role. It was all becoming very real and we knew that we were here to be a part of space exploration history.

The countdown continued and the final two hours seemed to fly by. We were kept busy with extra talks on 'women in space exploration' and also about how things had changed in the past few years with the availability of so much 'real time' data being released from space missions like the Mars Exploration Rovers - Spirit and Opportunity, plus the Cassini spacecraft at Saturn and others. People started using the images released and were processing it themselves and sharing the views they created online.

"When a picture from Mars hits the ground, you could be the first person to see it because it might be the middle of the day here but the scientists are still asleep over there." Glen said.

CLICK TO ENLARGE. Antennas at CDSCC catching the first few rays of dawn while tracking Curiosity and Mars. Photo: CDSCC

A witness to space exploration history
In the last few hours, we started chatting via Twitter with our fellow space tweep alumni attending the #NASATweetup at Cape Canaveral. Tweeting around the world we shared our experience of being witnesses to space exploration history.

In the final few minutes, all tweeting suddenly seemed to cease. Moments were left in the countdown and then 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 and liftoff! The Atlas rocket thundered off the launch pad and we were enthralled with the images coming down. Applause rippled through the room and each step of ascent process was greeted with cheers.

News from NASA confirmed what we had seen, a flawless launch. We knew at this stage that Curiosity was heading to Mars but first had to pass by Canberra.

About 30 minutes after launch we all headed out into the cold and misty rain and gathered to watch the two 34-metre antennas wait to acquire the signal from the spacecraft's cruise stage as it came over our western horizon. In less than a minute from the expected time, the two antennes slowly began moving, silent in the night. These 'giant ears' had heard something and followed it across the sky.

An announcement came over the Complex's loudspeakers telling the staff that they had made contact with the probe - we heard it too and cheered again. We headed back to Tweetup central and excitedly chatted about what we had seen.

For the launch we had been remote witnesses, thousands of kilometres away from the action and perhaps feeling one step removed from history.

However, on that night we all stood together in the chill Canberra air knowing that we had just been first-hand witnesess to history as Curiosity silently slipped overhead on its way to the red planet.

She had travelled half way around the world to see us, so we waved her "goodbye and good luck", "thanks for passing by", "see you next year on Mars!"

CSIRO Tweetup August 2012 anyone?!

You can follow the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex via Twitter at

You can follow CSIRO on social media via Twitter at and on Facebook at

For information about the mission, visit: and

You can follow the Mars Curiosity mission on social media via Twitter at and Facebook at

For further information about the Tweetup, please contact at:
Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex
Glen Nagle - Education and Outreach Manager
email or phone: 02 6201 7838 (bus.hours)
Vanessa Hill - Communications
email or mobile: 0412 409 971 (bus.hours)


On Twitter

#CSIROTweetup Members

Mars Science Laboratory
MSL mission website
MSL multimedia

Canberra Deep Space Comm. Complex
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Contact Information
CDSCC - Glen Nagle
Vanessa Hill

Media Enquiries
Glen Nagle - Outreach Manager
email or phone: 02 6201 7838 bh

Vanessa Hill - CSIRO Communications
email or mobile: 0412 409 971 bh

Current Schedule
Friday 25 November
15:00 Meet for registration
15:30 Tweeps meet and greet
16:30 Sunset tour of Deep Space Communication Complex
18:30 Dinner
20:00 Dr Paul Tregoning (ANU)
Dr Daniel Shaddock (JPL/ANU)
21:00 Marion Anderson (Monash U)
22:00 MSL Mission Update
22:30 NASA TV Coverage/Talks
00:00 Overnight accommodation

Saturday 26 November
09:00 Breakfast at Birrigai
10:30 Depart accommodation
12:00 CSIRO Discovery tour
13:00 Rob Hollow (CASS Marsfield)
13:30 Dr Ravi Sood (UNSW@ADFA)
14:10 Dr Trevor Ireland (ANU)
14:50 Tweetup Day 2 Wrapup
15:00 Goodbye to those leaving
15:30 Free time in Canberra and
have dinner in the city
19:30 Return to CDSCC
20:00 Evening events at CDSCC
23:00 Live NASA TV Coverage
Sunday 27 November
02:02 MSL Launch window opens
02:47 MSL signal acquisition
03:30 Tweetup Wrapup
03.30 Goodbye :)

What is a Tweetup?
A Tweetup is an informal meeting of people who use the social messaging medium Twitter. The goal of the CSIRO Tweetup is to allow people who regularly interact with each other via Twitter to meet in person and discuss one of their favourite subjects: Science!

What happens at a Tweetup?
A Tweetup is generally focussed around a specific event and allows 'tweeps' - people who use Twitter - to send short messages, called 'tweets' about their experiences and the things they learn.

Was this the first Tweetup?
It was the first for CSIRO but organisations like NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have both been using Tweetups since 2009. Events have ranged from get togethers with mission scientists, astronomers, science communicators, astronauts and celebrities; through to attending the launches of many different robotic spacecraft and Space Shuttle missions.

What happens at a Tweetup?
The CSIRO Tweetup provided @CSIROnews and @CanberraDSN followers with the opportunity to go behind-the-scenes at CDSCC and speak with scientists and researchers. This CSIRO Tweetup will ran for 36.5-hours and included a "meet and greet" session to allow participants to mingle with fellow Tweeps and the people behind CSIRO's and CDSCC's Twitter feeds. Participants will get a special tour of CDSCC, hear from guest speakers, watch the launch and tracking activities, enjoy a telescope night-sky viewing (clouds permitting), and a tour of CSIRO Discovery Centre, plus more.

Did I need to have a Twitter account to register?
Yes. CSIRO Tweetups are designed for Twitter users who follow @CSIROnews and @CanberraDSN accounts.

What are the CSIRO Tweetup registration requirements?
Registration for the CSIRO Tweetup indicates your intent to travel to the site of the event and attend in person. You are responsible for your own expenses for travel, some meals, spending money and general amenities.

Entry to CDSCC is restricted due to security and safety requirements. To be admitted, you will need to provide photo identification (driver's licence or passport) that matches the name provided on the registration.

Have a question not answered here? Need more information? Help is available by sending an email to

Other CDSCC Stories
Nov 2011 - Tweetup Party
April 2012 -
NASA Boss Visits CDSCC
Aug 2012 -
MSL Curiosity Landing
Jan 2013 -
DSS35 Webcams
April 2013 -
DSS43 40th Anniversary
Aug 2013 -
2013 Space Open Day
Sept 2013 -
DSS35 Construction
Nov 2013 - DSS36 Construction

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Public Relations Office: Glen Nagle / Leanne George