Once upon a time, people on Earth had to wait around for astronaut photos because developing and sending film from space is not exactly easy.
These days, however, Earthlings are lucky enough to get pictures directly from the International Space Station. Astronauts send images of the view beneath their window and their activities in orbit to space fans all over the world through social media. On Friday (March 14), the world of space station astronauts will be even more visible when National Geographic Channel airs "Live from Space," a TV show featuring live interviews with astronauts currently living and working on the orbiting outpost.
The two-hour special will show off space both from the view of the astronauts, as well as the ground team in Mission Control in Houston. That's not anything unusual, though, because we can see what's going on with the station at almost any time by logging on to social media. [See amazing views of Earth taken by astronauts in space]
The first astronaut to share his experiences from space on Twitter was Mike Massimino, a mission specialist aboard the space shuttle mission STS-125. "From orbit: Launch was awesome!! I am feeling great, working hard, & enjoying the magnificent views, the adventure of a lifetime has begun!" he wrote on May 12, 2009.
Since then, the use of social media exploded. Every expedition on board the space station these days has at least one astronaut sending updates regularly. Right now, Koichi Wakata (from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) and NASA's Rick Mastracchio are beaming information down during Expedition 39.
Several astronauts have been social media stars over the years. For example, NASA's Don Pettit — a part of Expedition 30/31 in 2011 through 2012 — created time exposures of the Earth that he sent to the planet's surface in almost real time. Last year, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield used social media to transmit impressive pictures and chat with celebrities like "Star Trek's" William Shatner.
In the coming years, social media will also be a venue for NASA astronauts to display bold new initiatives in human spaceflight. In 2015, American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko are expected to embark on a one-year mission to the space station.
"Live from Space" will air in 170 different countries at 8 p.m. EDT (0000 March 15 GMT). Check your local listings for details.
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Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace