Astronauts send out-this-world Tweets from space

The astronauts of Space Shuttle mission STS-131 are delighted by the response to their extra-terrestrial Twitter messages, they said Monday.

In space for 16 days, the crew included NASA astronaut Clay Anderson (@Astro_Clay) and Japanese astronaut Naoko Yamazaki (@Astro_Naoko) who kept tens of thousands of followers on the ground updated with the progress of the mission.

“I think it’s a very effective way, a very quick way, a very easy way for crew members to relate to people on the ground to tell them the excitement and the spectacular views that we have,” said Anderson at a Tokyo news conference. “It’s a great way to communicate the wonder of spaceflight.”

Anderson’s messages included snippets about his time in space that managed to cram his enthusiasm for the mission in 140 characters or less.

“Day 8 in orbit about the Earth! Beautiful views to relax to, after a 7 hour & 26 minute EVA! Whew! What a vehicle!,” he wrote on April 13.

But they almost didn’t make it online. A malfunctioning dish antenna on Space Shuttle Discovery meant Anderson wasn’t able to transmit the messages from the Shuttle itself and had to wait until it docked with the International Space Station. From their he was able to use the space station’s communications equipment.

“I sent it to some people on the ground who then did the tweeting for me from Houston,” he said.

Japanese astronaut Naoko Yamazaki said she valued Twitter for the feedback it brought her from followers on the ground.

“I got feedback from the readers,” she said. “I hope this communication will be more advancing in the future so that space will get more familiar to us.”

She became the second Japanese astronaut to use Twitter in space, following in the footsteps of Soichi Noguchi (@Astro_Soichi), who built up a following of several hundred thousand people by tweeting out photographs he had taken from the ISS, sometimes snapped to order after requests from followers. Noguchi recently returned to Earth on June 2.

It was just over a year ago, on May 12, 2009, that the first message was posted to Twitter from space. Astronaut Mike Massimino (@Astro_Mike) sent a tweet from Space Shuttle Atlantis.

He’s become the most-followed astronaut on the micro-blogging site with almost 1.3 million people subscribed to his Twitter feed.

Massimino’s tweet came in the space shuttle Atlantis‘ first full day in space on a mission to repair and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope.

“From orbit: Launch was awesome! I am feeling great, working hard, & enjoying the magnificent views, the adventure of a lifetime has begun!” wrote Massimino.

After NASA’s Atlantis craft blasted off following a fiery liftoff, the seven-astronaut crew began its 11-day mission to repair and upgrade the Hubble telescope, which is orbiting about 350 miles above Earth.

The shuttle is scheduled to rendezvous with Hubble, when mission specialist and Twitterer Massimino used the shuttle’s robotic arm to reach out and grab the orbiter and pull it into the shuttle’s payload bay.

Massimino’s groundbreaking Tweet in 2009 didn’t mention NASA’s disclosure that an examination found that the heat shield on Atlantis suffered some damage during the liftoff.

The inspection found multiple dings in Atlantis‘ critical outer tiles. The scratches were found on the forward part of the shuttle’s right wing close to where it connects to the fuselage, according to NASA spokeswoman Katherine Trinidad.

The damage was apparently related to a debris impact that occurred about 104 seconds after the Atlantis lifted off the ground, NASA said.

NASA has been especially diligent about studying the heat shields since the space shuttle Columbia broke apart upon re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere on Feb. 1, 2003. According to NASA, an investigation found that that disaster was caused by a hole in the heat-resistant panels that protected the wing from the high temperatures of re-entry.

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