As I'm sure many people will know by now, at 2009-03-12 16:39 UTC the International Space Station had a close encounter with some debris. I won't bother going into any serious detail about that, I'm sure that, by the time you read this, others will have gone into this in much more detail.
The thing that I find really interesting about it is that I even know anything about it, right now, right at this moment, as I type this. And the reason I know about it is I use Twitter and TweetDeck.
I'm not sure who posted about it first, whose "tweet" I saw first, but I first saw mention of the problem about 50 minutes before the closest approach of the debris (this is where TweetDeck comes in, I always have it running on a screen, very handy). From then on I was able to follow links, get more information (including checking what "11:39 CDT" was in real money), get a live audio feed from the station via NASA TV.
And then, as 16:39 UTC came about, and the feed from the ISS had gone quiet, the tweets from the people I follow pretty much went quiet too. There was a moment, a fascinating moment, where I really felt like I was doing the same thing as lots of other people who share my interests and concerns — we were all just watching and listening and wishing the crew of the ISS well.
And then the moment passed and we could hear the ISS talking again (first in Russian, then in English) and there was an obvious huge sigh of relief.
Two things really stand out for me:
- It's amazing that I was able to follow it at all. That's some incredible transparency. The fact that I could listen to the conversations taking place, how amazing is that? (and that's leaving aside the technology involved in making that happen)
- By the time the danger for the ISS had passed the BBC news site had just managed to get a "BREAKING NEWS" banner on the front page. It wasn't until after the danger had passed that a page for the story appeared. By then, for me, via twitter, it was "old news".