This week, the crew aboard the International Space Station got a treat from NASA. The three-person crew received software enabling them to use the Internet, and it didn't take long for the Expedition 22 flight crew to send the first live tweet from space. Engineer T.J. Creamer, who uses @Astro_TJ, sent the first tweet Friday at 3:58 a.m. Eastern time directly from the space station.
"Hello Twitterverse! We r now LIVE tweeting from the International Space Station -- the 1st live tweet from Space! :) More soon, send your ?s," wrote Creamer.
Before Friday's tweet, crew members, including space station Commander Jeff Williams and Soichi Noguchi, e-mailed their tweets to Houston. Then someone at NASA would post the tweets.
Not long after his first few tweets, Creamer had 5,000 followers. As of 4 p.m. Eastern time Friday he had 9,166 followers, according to NASA spokesperson Kelly Humphries. By 11 a.m. on Saturday, he was already nearing the 17,000 mark.
"As NASA has used technology in the past to keep people's interest, it's no surprise they've embraced Twitter," said Michael Gartenberg, an Interpret analyst.
NASA's goal in providing Internet access to the crew is to ignite more interest in the space-station program. So it is doing what the National Space Act requires, which is to share with the public as much information as it can. NASA has accounts with Flickr, Facebook and YouTube, and it recently launched an application for Apple's iPhone.
"NASA is always looking for new ways to reach out to new audiences to show the excitement of what we are doing. Social networking is not any different than that," Humphries said. "[With Twitter] we are trying to reach out to folks around the world and share ideas about NASA's scientific research and exploration."
"While audiences might not be as interested in seeing TV pictures from space as they might once have been, Twitter allows them to engage a new audience and a new generation with a medium they're comfortable with," Gartenberg said.
Providing the equipment for communication from space was also a morale booster. "These folks are dedicated and commit a lot of time to the program," Humphries said. "This will enhance their lives and allow them to communicate with friends and family. If we have a smile on our face while we are at work, we are more productive, and allowing these guys to have access helps them be emotionally connected."
Future Space Tweets
Twitter users who follow Creamer should expect a mix of tweets from space that are both personal and science-related. Followers shouldn't expect any questionable or racy tweets, as there are standards of conduct for government employees' use of equipment, according to NASA.
"I would expect for the tweets to focus on events and activities of the crew and of what is going on in the everyday life aboard the International Space Station," Humphries said.
NASA has its own Twitter account with 19,000 followers, as does Williams, with 4,797 followers, and spacewalker Mike Massamino, with 1.3 million followers.