Space shuttle Discovery: With social media, so close, and yet, so far

As the space shuttle Discovery passed by the Washington Post office on Tuesday, I neither saw nor heard it. I was inside, working. And even though there were thousands of others in the city indoors just like me, thanks to the constant stream of social media from the Discovery’s observers, it felt like the entire city was having a shuttle-spotting party, and I was the only one who didn’t RSVP.


View Photo Gallery: Space shuttle Discovery landed at Dulles airport on April 17 on the back of a 747 after a fly-around of much of the region. It’s now bound for the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

Being stuck in the office as social media updates rolled in gave me a serious case of FOMO, or “Fear of missing out,” as parsed by New York Times tech reporter Jenna Wortham in a recent essay. FOMO “refers to the blend of anxiety, inadequacy and irritation that can flare up while skimming social media like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Instagram. Billions of Twitter messages, status updates and photographs provide thrilling glimpses of the daily lives and activities of friends, ‘frenemies,’ co-workers and peers.”

Two friends took the morning off to have a breakfast picnic at the Washington Monument. Another watched from the roof of the Watergate. Other friends sat on the banks of the Potomac, or watched from the top of the taller office buildings across the river in Rosslyn. If I lived in New York, it might not have been such of a letdown, but since the shuttle was so close, the FOMO effect was amplified.

That’s not to say that shutting off from social media would have been better. You don’t avert your eyes from a once-in-a-lifetime view, even if it’s only witnessed through a screen.

As the plane/shuttle combo made loops over the Mall, here are a few stories and galleries that gave me the chance to feel like I was actually there:

User photos submitted to The Washington Post of the flyby.

• A Storify by the Guardian U.S., which gets extra points for including tweets with the hashtag #spacegasm

• The Buzz’s #WelcomeDiscovery liveblog, with updates from all across the region.

Bonus: A zinger of a Storify from DCist that catalogued people who thought the Discovery was the Challenger — oops).

As for next time there’s a citywide spectacle, I’m ditching work.


View Photo Gallery: The space shuttle Discovery will be put on permanent display Thursday at the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.


View Photo Gallery: The shuttle will be transported to the Smithsonian on April 17 for permanent display.

Maura Judkis covers culture, food, and the arts for the Weekend section and Going Out Guide.

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