Paul Byrne, associate professor of Earth, environmental, and planetary sciences and a fellow of the McDonnell Center for the Space Science, both in Arts & Sciences at Washington University, has developed a substantial following on X (formerly known as Twitter) as @ThePlanetaryGuy, amassing an audience of over 75,000 individuals. He started a Twitter account in 2018. He posted occasionally at first, but became much more active during the lockdown imposed by the COVID pandemic. During that time, he became a go-to authority for media outlets seeking insights into planetary topics, attracting an ever-expanding number of followers.
Over time, his Twitter account evolved from a personal profile into a hub for sharing general science communications. Byrne's online presence did not go unnoticed. Jared Truettner, a Digital Marketing and Social Media specialist within Lockheed Martin's Human & Deep Space Exploration Division, extended invitations to Byrne and other similarly influential people across various social media platforms. He envisioned creating a grassroots group called "in:SPACE influencers" from people on X, TikTok, Instagram and similar social media sites who post information on space related topics and already have a large group of followers.
Byrne applied for this unique opportunity and is pleased to have been selected as part of the in:SPACE influencer group. As part of the group, he was invited to Lockheed Martin's Waterton Campus near Denver, Colorado, to witness the landing of the OSIRIS-REx samples on September 24, 2023. Lockheed Martin designed and built the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, asteroid sampling system and sample return capsule at the Waterton Campus. The company also operated the spacecraft from its Mission Support Area from launch through sample return. OSIRIS-REx was launched in 2016 with a mission of conducting a survey of asteroid Bennu, retrieving samples and bringing them back to Earth for subsequent analysis.
During the visit to Lockheed Martin's facilities, Paul Byrne and his fellow influencers received a tour of the Mission Support Area, offering them the opportunity to deliver real-time updates as the command was issued for the space capsule's release. Byrne continued to share insights with his audience, providing live commentary as the parachute deployed and the capsule safely touched down.
"It was an incredible opportunity to be invited by Lockheed Martin Space to be part of this event," said Byrne. "The OSIRIS-REx sample will be game changing for our understanding of Solar System history, and I can't wait to see what we learn from it!"
Header image: Mission Support Area: Here, LM Space controls six deep-space spacecraft, including OSIRIS-REx (now called OSIRIS-APEX as it goes on to rendezvous with the asteroid Apophis in 2029)