Continental 1404, Pan Am 103, and thoughts on dodging bullets

This morning, before I’d even had my tea, I learned via e-mail that at my local airport last night a Continental flight 1404 veered off the runway and crashed, injuring 58. AP reported that local resident Mike Wilson tweeted his experience immediately after he escaped the burning plane.

Two tweets from Wilson especially caught my attention:

Mike Wilson's first post about the Denver plane crash he survived

Mike Wilson's first post about the Denver plane crash he survived

And then, a couple of hours later…

Mike Wilson reflects on a similar bullet he dodged earlier

Mike Wilson reflects on a similar bullet he dodged earlier

…Next I was making breakfast, listening to Colorado Public Radio, which was (of course) reporting on the Denver airport accident. They followed that with a story that stopped me cold for a bit: Witnesses, Families Remember Lockerbie Bombing. Yes, today is the 20th anniversary of the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 — a terrorist attack that killed 259 on the plane and 11 on the ground.

On the evening of Dec. 21, 1988, I was a 22-year-old journalism student packed up and ready to head back home to NJ after spending a semester in London. I’d been at the office Christmas party for the business magazine where I’d been interning. When I entered the house I’d been sharing since August with five other students, my housemates who hadn’t yet departed for home were sitting in the living room, crying. Mindy said, “Diane’s plane crashed”…

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Mars Phoenix Talked to Me!

I love starting the day with this kind of conversation:

I asked the Mars Phoenix lander...

Phoenix said....

Wow, that is so cool!

…Of course, I’m not talking to the real Mars Phoenix lander, but rather to people at the mission’s PR team who are tweeting as if they’re the lander — via the account MarsPhoenix. A June 12 FCW.com article explained:

Rhea Borja, Media Relations Officer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory… came up with the idea to create a feed on Twitter, a microblogging Web site, to help attract a younger group of space enthusiasts. …It worked. ‘The people who are following the Mars Phoenix Twitter, they’re people who don’t typically read air and space stories or follow missions,’ Borja said. ‘It’s like a whole new world for them –– literally.’

“The lander’s personality comes from Veronica McGregor, manager of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Media Relations Office. She set up the feed a few weeks before Phoenix, which was launched in August 2007, landed on Mars on May 25.

“The plan was to set up a blog to update people about Phoenix’s progress, but that involves a lot of people and can be very time-consuming, McGregor said. A blog was still set up, but Borja’s idea to use Twitter seemed like the ideal way to give people up-to-the-minute information, McGregor said. ‘The great thing about Twitter is that you don’t have to be in front of the computer to get updates. You can get them on your cell phone wherever you are,’ Borja said. ‘So, I thought, how cool would that be if you were out and about with friends and you’re having dinner and getting the countdown of the spacecraft [to its landing]?’

This is one of the smartest uses of Twitter for public outreach I’ve ever seen — giving folks a sense of a personal connection to this high-tech mission to find water (and signs of life) on Mars. (Some members of the Phoenix team are also blogging.) I especially like that Mars Phoenix is replying to questions sent in by its Twitter friends (like me).

Makes it all seem so much less… alien!

In the past, I’ve railed against “character blogs” as stupidly inauthentic. I think it’s counterproductive to maintain the ruse of a false persona in the blog format, unless posts are very short. But for a space mission, “character tweets” from the spacecraft seem like a brilliant fit.

I’m not sure why the difference in length of posts and the nature of the medium makes a difference, but to me it does. Need to mull this over. Thoughts?