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100 NASA fans all atwitter about close-up view of launch

Yesterday, the eve of its scheduled launch, the space shuttle Atlantis rested on its pad at Kennedy Space Center. Atlantis is to bring tons of spare parts to the international space station. Yesterday, the eve of its scheduled launch, the space shuttle Atlantis rested on its pad at Kennedy Space Center. Atlantis is to bring tons of spare parts to the international space station. (Scott Audette/Reuters)
Associated Press / November 16, 2009

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Fingers will be flying when the space shuttle Atlantis blasts off today: About 100 of NASA’s followers will be on hand, pecking away at iPhones, BlackBerrys, laptops, and other Twittering gadgets.

They plan to let loose with electronic messages - provided they aren’t so swept away by the afternoon liftoff that they fall uncharacteristically silent for a moment or two. For the first time, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration last month invited its Twitter followers to sign up online for the chance to see a space shuttle launch up close.

The Atlantis is scheduled to blast off at 2:28 p.m. with tons of spare parts for the international space station. The 11-day flight will keep six astronauts in orbit over the Thanksgiving holiday.

NASA said yesterday that the countdown is going smoothly, and forecasters put the odds of acceptable weather at 90 percent.

Laura Burns has a strategy for reporting the launch. She’ll have the words typed in and her finger hovering over the button so she can send a tweet at the moment of liftoff.

“I’ll have to be like juggling my iPhone and my camera and my eyes and trying to get everything all at once,’’ said Burns, 33, a software systems engineer from Columbia, Md. She’s using the Twitter name “moonrangerlaura.’’

The 100 Twitter slots and 50 backup positions filled in less than 20 minutes Oct. 16. The participants represent 21 states plus the District of Columbia, as well as five countries, including Morocco and New Zealand.

The two-day online gathering got underway yesterday at Kennedy Space Center with talks by NASA bigwigs, including the first Twittering astronaut, Michael Massimino, also known as Astro -Mike. The discussions were streamed live on the Internet, and the “tweetup’’ gathering was near the top of Twitter’s trending topics yesterday morning.