Call him @Astro_Mike. That?s the latest digital moniker ofNASA astronaut Michael Massimino, who has invited the world to tag along viathe Twitter micro-blogging Web site as he trains for a May space shuttlemission to overhaul the Hubble Space Telescope.
Massimino, a veteran spacewalker and Hubble repairman, isset to make his second trip to the iconic orbital observatory when he and sixother astronauts launchtoward Hubble on May 12 aboard NASA?s space shuttle Atlantis. The risky11-day mission will include five spacewalks and expected to extend Hubble?slifetime through at least 2014.
Twitter allows users to post 140-character notes about theircurrent thoughts and actions and to track the posts of others who do the same.NASA has been using the social networking site to reach out to a Web-savvypublic and promote various space science and mission efforts.
According to Massimino?s latest ?tweet,? he is currentlyembroiled ?in asimulator practicing for the first spacewalk on my mission.?
?He just started on Friday,? NASA spokesperson JamesHartsfield told SPACE.com from the Johnson Space Center in Houston. ?Hehas always been looking for good ways of connecting with the public and tellingthe stories of what they?re doing.?
Massimino is a veteran of two spacewalks, both of which heperformed during his first flight to Hubble during a 2002 service call. He willperform two of the five planned spacewalks during the upcoming STS-125 shuttleflight to add new instruments, replace batteries and gyroscopes, attach adocking ring for future robotic vehicles and make unprecedented repairs tosystems that were never designed to be fixed in space.
Themission is riskier than recent NASA shuttle missions because it is not boundfor the International Space Station, where astronauts can take refuge if theirorbiter suffers critical damage. Because Hubble flies in a higher orbit anddifferent inclination than the station, Atlantis will not be able to reach theorbiting laboratory to ferry its crew to a safe haven. Instead, NASA will havea second space shuttle on a Florida launch pad ready to launcha rescue mission, if required.
Massimino is using a mobile device to update his Twittermessages and is currently the only NASA astronaut to use the online tool forofficial space agency business, Hartsfield said. The space agency has ageneral, agency-wide NASA Twitter account and uses the tool to spread updatesfor many ongoing missions and other probes that have not yet launched intospace.
?Social media is a large and growing sector ofcommunications,? Hartsfield said. ?So this is a very neat thing and it offersMike a chance to connect with the public.?
Hartsfield cautioned Massimino?s Twitter followers to bepatient, especially as his mission?s launch date draws near.
?Of course, training keeps him very busy,? Hartsfield said.?So we?ll see how much he can update.?
Click here tofollow Massimino?s Twitter updates.
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