Interview With A Geek Mom

Shannon takes one of the ultimate selfies during the STS-129 NASA Tweetup.

Shannon in one of the ultimate selfies during the STS-129 NASA Tweetup.

Choosing the right person to be the first featured on this site should have been a difficult process, there are so many inspiring geeky women to choose from! After considering many criteria the same name kept coming up – Shannon Moore, more commonly known as @ageekmom. She sat down for a text chat with me recently on Google Hangouts, and quickly proved to be exactly the right choice.

Shannon may not be famous in a general sense, but in a certain corner of Twitter her name is spoken with reverence. The Space Tweep Society is a community that started jelling on Twitter and was brought to full life thanks to the efforts of Jen Scheer (@flyingjenny). “Space tweep” and “SpaceTweeps” have even been accepted into the Urban Dictionary! When Shannon found her way into the community she proved to be excellent at engaging her growing list of followers on the topic of space (as well as her many other interests) and nurturing interest in missions all over the world. She has participated in multiple NASA Tweetups and Socials over the years and become a font of information, especially helpful and tirelessly welcoming to those who are new to the experience. When there is a space-related event that she can’t attend, she becomes an impromptu “mission control” for activities, monitoring accounts of people who are there, tweeting out places where people are gathering, and making sure that no one needs to miss out on the fun, as well as sharing any video broadcast and picture links so other far-flung Space Tweeps can be a part of things. She never set out to be any form of leader, certainly is not THE leader of anything, and would probably bristle at being called one at all, but she grew into her role as people came to depend on her updates.

Shannon topped both charts on NASA's (now defunct) Buzzroom the night Russia's Soyuz TMA-17 returned to earth.

Shannon topped both charts on NASA’s (now defunct) Buzzroom the night Russia’s Soyuz TMA-17 returned to earth.

By living and breathing outreach, she has garnered the attention and adulation of NASA, ESA, and other private and public major players in space. Her skill in helping people figure out the logistics of planning to attend NASA Tweetups/Socials has made her the perfect self-described “groundskeeper” of the NASA Tweet wiki, created by Jon Verville (@jonverve) to help people keep up with various Tweetups and Socials relating to space as well as collecting the history of past events. Her efforts on Twitter, the wiki, various Facebook groups, and other planning spaces have not only made it easier for people to plan their own journeys but have encouraged people to apply in the first place.

Shannon has had an interest in space, technology, nature, and science from fact to fiction for as long as she can remember. She is part of a generation (disclaimer: my own, we’re less than 3 years apart in age) that can remember a time before commercially-available internet, when most kids weren’t exposed to computers at a young age as a matter of course, but the lucky ones got to grow up with them and experience the early days of being online while still quite young. Those were also the days when being a geek or a nerd was definitely not even slightly cool, and the nascent world of BBSs and dial-up modems became a haven for many, the precursor to today’s social media.

Unsurprisingly, as an adult she found herself in a high-pressure career, which eventually caused her to question her priorities and choose to create a more balance life. Taking the time to pursue her passions for the nature around her in San Antonio as well as technology led to a new life as a part-time web developer, including building and managing a long-running popular site about Texas wildlife and parks, wildtexas.com, and co-founder of a photography and design business called Moore Photography with her husband, Justin. Eventually, it also led to her favorite position of all, the one that gave her the name she is now best known by – geek mom to a clever little girl, now in elementary school.

It’s an impressive example of figuring out how to have your own version of “it all” without apology.

4143207207_9d8cac5882_oAt the same time, she has provided copious support for women who make different choices, and never, ever suggested that her choices are better for anyone else. She’s a strong advocate for encouraging girls and women to study and pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in particular. She cheers over accomplishments, commiserates over failures and times of bad luck, shares her wisdom freely, promotes projects and people she believes in, and encourages all of the people around her be their full and true selves.

It’s hard to imagine #SpaceTweeps without Shannon and it is just as hard to imagine Shannon without #SpaceTweeps.

You can check out her space blog at Statio Tranquilitas and we highly recommend giving her a follow on Twitter, especially if you have any interest at all in space.

Disclaimer: I have been friends with Shannon for several years, both online and through spending as much time together as we could at quite a few events around the country.

Craft Lass: Let’s start with a bit about your childhood. What first got you interested in space?

Shannon Moore: I think I came by it naturally. My earliest memories of space related things are of sitting on my swing set in my backyard in California, looking up at the stars and the moon and just marveling at the heavens. And of course I was an avid reader, so the world of books opened up the world of space travel to me as well.

Craft Lass: What was the first sci-fi novel you obsessed over?

Shannon Moore: Oh my, I actually was pulled into the world of Heinlein a bit but that was way over my head at the time. My mom was reading it back then. I pretty much read anything I could get my hands on, even if I stumbled all over myself as I tried to decipher it :).

Craft Lass: I can totally relate!

What was your introduction to computers and technology in general?

I mean, in a hands-on way?

Shannon Moore: My father. I credit my dad for making computers “safe” for me — something that I never once questioned as something that me, a girl, could be interested in, nay, could love. He let me sit on his lap when he was working on his computer :). And he let me use his computer. He got so tired of how much I used his, in fact, I adopted his old computer when I was only about 10 years old.

Craft Lass: What kind of computer was that?

Shannon Moore: My first computer was a Tandy Co-Co (Color Computer) that was the first one they actually bought me. My first computer, the one I adopted from him, was a TRS-80 Model IV. 🙂

We had a Sinclair though…but I can’t claim to have used it.

Craft Lass: Oh, so, so cool!!!

Shannon Moore: I loved that TRS-80.

Craft Lass: You’ve often said you come from a family of geeks. Besides getting you into computers, how did having parents like that effect you? Do you think it gave you more confidence in yourself?

Shannon Moore: Yes and no. All of [my] family members are tremendously talented individuals in their own rights. My brother is a talented sculptor, painter, craftsman, just all around artist. Mom’s an incredible miniaturist, crafter, cook. Dad’s amazing with technology, engineering tasks. So you have to prove yourself in our household :). I think I’m still trying to do that. That’s not a bad thing. It keeps you trying new things and excelling, and picking yourself up when you don’t ;). They definitely taught me to not be afraid to do your own thing, and to pursue your talents/hone them.

Craft Lass: That sounds pretty great, especially since they clearly understand having a range of interests, as you do.

Shannon Moore: It was an incredible environment to grow up in. And it’s still an incredible environment to bounce ideas around in (not to mention when I needed help learning how to fix things on the house ;).

Craft Lass: Speaking of family, your geek cred includes probably being one of the earliest people to meet your spouse online, long before dating sites. How did that happen?

Shannon Moore: Hehe. Luck <3

Nah, I like telling the story…so here goes:

We were both running dialup Bulletin Board Systems. Mine, of COURSE, was called Tranquility Base BBS. His was called DreamScape BBS (after an obscure movie ;). We called each other’s boards, and lots of others in the local area. We kept running into each other on various discussion threads, and he was articulate. We became good friends and eventually I became a Co-SysOp of his BBS. That’s like, hmm…someone giving you their keys to their car these days ;). hehe. Anyway. We took forever to meet in person, and even longer to realize we were an item, but we were youngun’s, so that’s probably a GOOD THING.

Craft Lass: Haha, funny but true, as we learned in subsequent years. Do you think that experience made you more open to making new friends online?

Shannon Moore: Absolutely! And I learned some valuable skills. There were some bumps along the way. I have a few lessons learned from some people who weren’t so nice that could have been disasters, but elders wisely warned me away from them, and my own intuition kicked in on a couple as well. Sadly, everyone who’s been online long enough has stories to tell.

Craft Lass: Very true. In recent weeks, in particular, there has been a lot of chatter about online harassment leading to real world problems, including violence. With your years of experience, what is the best piece of advice you have for other women online?

Shannon Moore: It’s two-fold, probably — you can never be too “paranoid”, meaning if you have a bad feeling, there’s probably a reason for it. Listen to your gut. And with the ability to research so readily available, while it may take a little of the “romance” out of the equation, I think in this day and age I’d go for researching the heck out of potential beau. But that’s coming from a gal who took a year to meet her suitor she’d been chatting with extensively on the phone and online. But, hey, we’re still married after 15 years, and together after 20…so… 😉

Craft Lass: Those don’t sound like bad policies even for meeting offline!

How did you decide you wanted your primary career to be motherhood? Was that something you always planned/wanted or a more mature decision?

Shannon Moore: It’s something I drifted into, really. Definitely not something that was always on my radar — quite the opposite, in fact. Had you asked me if I planned to have a child and stay at home to raise him/her just 10 years ago, I’d have bristled at the notion. But I what can only be described as a cosmic shift in my focus after a very difficult period in my corporate career. I’m sure entire case studies have been made on this, but I burned myself out/peaked too soon, and couldn’t sustain that kind of workload (we’re talking 6 day weeks, coming in before the sun rises, and not going home until 10:30pm.) So, yeah. It was difficult for a long while, because I had defined my success up to that point by my job — it was the epitome of my success as a person. Not having it, I was suddenly, what…? But quitting the job, and starting our small business, and also taking time to do some camping, and bicycling, and such was a positive turning point for me. It was still a couple years before I thought, “Huh…I think I want to have a kid. Weird!”

Craft Lass: Life is constantly surprising! What is your favorite thing about no longer being in that corporate environment? And is there anything you miss from those days?

Shannon Moore: My favorite thing about no longer being in that corporate environment is I actually have a better relationship with some of my former coworkers NOW than I did back then. Without the stress and artificial b.s., we actually like each other, whereas back then, there was a cliquish mentality and “us” vs. them behavior. What do I miss? I miss having lunch. I forget to each lunch SO OFTEN now, and I am so jealous of people that eat lunch at real restaurants :).

Craft Lass: What originally attracted you to Twitter?

Shannon Moore: I was a very slow adopter of Twitter. I actually first used it to share information about hybrid-electric vehicles, and I got flamed all the time by anti-environmental folks. Twitter didn’t really become something I “got” until I discovered the #SpaceTweep community, which was in 2009 and culminated of course with my first attendance at a Space Shuttle launch when NASA invited 150 people to attend the STS-129 NASA Tweetup that November.

Craft Lass: How did you first discover the #SpaceTweep community? 

Shannon Moore: Wow, I wish I could pinpoint a specific tweet or something, but I can’t. I am absolutely certain, though, that it would have been a tweet from Jen Scheer (@flyingjenny). She was so instrumental in creating the Space Tweep Society and giving a voice and mascot the the SpaceTweep community, and I remember gravitating to her tweets very early on.

Craft Lass: A pretty common story, I’m sure! You were around a little before I was, I think, but we’ve both watched that community grow in leaps and bounds since those early days. Were you surprised at your quick rise in popularity, especially as of that first launch tweetup?

Shannon Moore: It was a little daunting, and remained that way for quite a while. I’d get weirded out and find myself rethinking a tweet or over thinking a tweet I was about to write, and starting to kind of hate Twitter just a tiny bit, because really, Twitter isn’t supposed to be this place you over think things, right? You’re not supposed to make an ass of yourself, of course, but you’d like to not have to sit there and compose a graduate level essay, either. I think I only just now have finally grown comfortable with the fact that “lots” of people follow me — my brain finds it easier not to deal in hard numbers because many people have vastly more followers, anyhow! On the other hand, there was a part of me that found it incredibly wonderful that so many people were following me because of my space adventures and news. I realized in some small way, I could help NASA spread its “gospel” to the masses :).

Craft Lass: How many shuttle launches did you wind up getting to see in the final years of the program?

Shannon Moore: 3 launches — 2 due to the good graces of NASA’s NASATweetup (STS-129, and STS-135 when they so graciously invited me back as a +1), and 1 from the causeway (STS-133)

Craft Lass: Many NASA Social/Tweetup participants say the experience changed their lives. Would you agree and are there any specific ways you can pinpoint?

Shannon Moore: Absolutely. Life-changing and life-affirming are the two most common ways I describe NASA Tweetup/NASA Social to people. It’s the combination of fulfilling a life-long dream, in this case of experiencing a launch in person and simply standing in the presence on greatness — I know it sounds crazy to people but it still makes me teary eyed when I think about the fact I stood on “NASA grass” (the term comes from NASA’s Beth Beck…sorry, Coloradan’s 😉 — the same grass where so many thousands of others bore witness to Saturn V launches and so many other Shuttle launches. The history is just palpable out there at the Cape. And you couple that with being among the truly inspired and inspiring NASA employees and contractors and your fellow tweetup/social attendees and it’s just a perfect storm of energy and inspiration. It’s all that’s good in the world bundled in one place.

And the best thing is it happens no matter where the event occurs. Launches are naturals, of course, but my visit to JPL proved it again. You take one part NASA and mix another part NASA Social/NASATweetup and add attendees and you get awesome.

Craft Lass: If you were suddenly handed the power to make budget decisions for NASA, what would you make the highest priorities right now? 

Shannon Moore: Hahaha. Oh, my. I hate making enemies, so this is a fun one 🙂 As much as I want us to go beyond low earth orbit, all of the fibers of my being are telling me SLS is not the way to get there. I realize that’s not a scientific rationale, so here’s one that’s a tad more scientific — former Deputy Administrator Lori Garver says it’s a bad idea. Y’know what, I’m inclined to agree with her now that she’s in a position where she can speak her mind. It has felt like a mistake from the get-go. A pork-barrel project to keep certain districts happy. That’s why it uses the Shuttle Main Engines (REALLY? That’s the best we can do!?! C’mon…Carl Sagan would be shaking his head…) Anyway. So, I just killed SLS. Go, me! Europa and Titan. I so want us to get down and dirty there. I want us to do something audacious, like we did with Curiousity’s SkyCrane. A boat? An underwater submersible? Let’s do this. And we need a sample return mission from Mars. Have I used up NASA’s budget yet? 😉

Craft Lass: Probably, but I was just trying to stay away from “sky’s the limit” hypotheticals, because I know we’d both fund as many missions as possible in that scenario, so I think your answer works.

Shannon Moore: Yeah, I think I was out of budget before I hit the sample return mission 😉

This is me making NASA’s budget — FUND ALL THE THINGS.

Craft Lass: Priceless!!!

Shannon Moore: Hehe 🙂

Craft Lass: Do you think we should return to the moon?

Shannon Moore: Yes, I am in the “we should return to the moon” camp. I can’t remember if that makes me one of the people Neil de Grasse Tyson would scoff at or laud. Ah well. I think we need to return because it’s been too damn long since we were there and technology has advanced incredibly. There is so much more we can do there now, that we couldn’t do back then. And, yes, inspiration and American pride and all that jazz.

Not to mention, an American WOMAN hasn’t been there yet, so there is that.

Craft Lass: Do you think the idea of more countries (like China and India) entering the beyond-LEO club could help generate political goodwill for NASA to return to the moon?

Shannon Moore: I think anytime any nation spreads its wings and heads skyward it’s a good thing. Their successes (and their failures) are shared with all of humanity and spur all of us forward / are teachable moments. Now, if we’re stupid/stick our heads in the sand, well then, maybe we do deserve to go the way of the dinosaurs.

Craft Lass: The International Space Station is, of course, the largest international project ever attempted in space. Do you think the future of space travel should focus on more cooperation on the big-ticket missions and long-term projects?

Shannon Moore: I think the International Space Station has proven we can, and do, work incredibly well together with other nations. With the incredible cost required to support complex multi-year missions like these, I think multi-national support is going to continue to be the only way forward. Even rich billionaires can only go so far to fund projects, as we’ve seen with things like Mars One and (not to draw a parallel, because there isn’t one) Elon Musk’s eventual plans to colonize Mars.

Craft Lass: Do you think international cooperation in space affects our international politics back on our home planet?

Shannon Moore: I wish it affected the balance of power in a greater way, but so often is seems the players in the political process on the ground really aren’t that aware of the international cooperation we have going on in orbit and between Mission Control Moscow, Japan, Europe, Canada, etc. I’m sure that’s true of so much else in our country, sadly. We’re actually all so much more alike than we are different…and the differences are what make us special/interesting. But now I’m getting philosophical…

Craft Lass: Well, along those lines, while you’re in this mode, have you found that getting involved in #SpaceTweeps has made your life more global, due to meeting tweeps in many other countries and even meeting quite a few of them at launches and Socials/Tweetups? Has your perspective changed through being part of a global community?

Shannon Moore: Yes. My perspective’s broader – I’ve always been open-minded, but I mean I follow a broader variety of folks and I make it a point to stay informed in a way that I didn’t consciously do before I was a part of the #SpaceTweep community and so aware of folks all over the world. The whole “citizen of the world” saying makes sense to me now. When things happen in the news, invariably, I have someone I care about that either lives there or is traveling there that I need to check on – thankfully our connected world makes that easy, and no one I know has ever been in dire straits, but they’ve been in the mix (like you with Sandy!)

Craft Lass: If you could send one tweet to your 10-year old self, what would it be?

Shannon Moore: There’s no such thing as an allergy to math. You can do it. Keep practicing.

Would’ve changed the course of my life, I tell ya. Might be an astronaut after all. That was my plan, until I hit math in high school…brick wall.

Craft Lass: That seems to be a common refrain, too… Why do you think so many students are turned off by high school math?

Shannon Moore: My self-talk was reiterated by what the teacher said when I turned in my homework, and without meaning to hamstring me, my mom introduced the “don’t worry, honey, I’m allergic to math, too” so I had an “out”.

Boys don’t get told that, typically. They may not become math majors, but they’re not told they can’t do it/shouldn’t try.

Craft Lass: How will you try to prevent your daughter from thinking the same way in the future?

Shannon Moore: When she was very young, I made a vow to myself to never repeat that phrase or anything like it to her. I’m very mindful of how I talk to her about her studies, but especially mathematics and the sciences — really anything that I know socially she is going to face pressures “against”. And I also focus on helping her understand that it’s okay to fail. That just like learning to walk, or ride a bicycle, or do anything else in life, you fail many times when doing a new difficult math problem before you get it right. For some reason, teachers don’t teach math this way.

Craft Lass: Do you think current efforts to reach girls and encourage them to study more STEM are starting to turn the tide? Do you have any favorite programs, present or recent?

Shannon Moore: I don’t have any favorites, and kind of ascribe to the — the more, the merrier! philosophy at this point. I think the programs start out really strong in the K-8 range and just when you start to lose young girls is when the programs start to winnow out. There are so many at the lower ages and seem to be a lot fewer as kids age. I’ll grant in part this could be a fallacy of perspective since I have a kiddo in elementary school so I tend to put my feelers up when the programs are geared towards elementary age children. Perhaps there really isn’t an issue and I’m only perceiving one. I do know by the time they’re in middle and high school they have the benefit of things like magnet school programs and the like (if they’re in a good district.) One thing we love to do is a free annual science fair held here in town, sponsored by a local ISP. I like it even more because, though it’s not only for girls, they aim it particularly at girls :).

Craft Lass: That’s great about the science fair! I’ll back up your observations about ages, I’ve noticed the same thing and I don’t have any children to bias me regarding age group.

This is the first interview for Geek Girls Night Out, which we hope will build into a positive community where people can just be themselves, unapologetically. Do you have any message you’d like to kick us off with?

Shannon Moore: I think being comfortable in your own skin, and that includes finding your own voice, is just about the most important thing in life. It’s certainly the most important piece to living a healthy, true-to-yourself life. The best way to accomplish it is to find your network of friends whom you can be yourself with. Over time, you’ll find you can be that way all the time. Yeah, some people will drift away — those people didn’t matter to begin with. I’m 40. It’s taken me years to learn all this. And I’m still learning.

Craft Lass: Learning should never, ever end, right?

Shannon Moore: Amen!

Craft Lass: Okay, thank you so much for being the first person on the hot spot for us! It’s greatly appreciated.

Shannon Moore: Thank you! I enjoyed it 🙂

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