NASA?s first live tweet-up between the public and astronauts in space was cut short Wednesday by a false alarm on the International Space Station.
The station's two resident Twitterers - Nicole Stott and Jeff Williams - were mid-way through a live interview with a group of their Twitter followers gathered at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., when they were interrupted by a loud beeping.
"Excuse us just a second," Williams said as he and Stott scrambled to check their consoles to investigate the source of the alarm. Soon after, the station passed out of communications range with ground stations, ending the live video link with the two astronauts.
The alert came from a smoke alarm in the station's Russian-built service module, but there was no actual cause for concern, NASA spokesperson Rob Navias said.
"It was a false alarm," Navias told SPACE.com.
The astronauts had been answering questions posed by members of the public gathered for NASA's first ever tweetup - a meeting of Twitter followers - from space. Current and former astronauts also answered questions from Earth while waiting for the Earth-to-space video hookup.
Over a million people follow one of NASA's accounts on the microblogging site.
Williams and Stott both use the site to share snippets of what life is like in space. Williams writes as "Astro_Jeff," while Stott posts under the name "Astro_Nicole."
"I think we've shown here in the recent past that Twitter is an effective way to get the word out about what we're doing," Williams said today during the event.
More fun for Twitter fans is coming up, when NASA plans to give 100 tweeps a tour of its Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., and a chance to watch the planned space shuttle launch on Nov. 12.
Life in space
The tweetup was a chance for people to ask about some of the ins and outs of life in space. A young woman named Sarah asked if there was anything about living on the space station that the astronauts hadn't prepared or trained for.
"Something you can't train for is how your body is going to react to the new environment," Stott said. "Getting used to moving from one place to another without walking - just floating and pushing off of surfaces? I think that has been a really cool part of this whole experience."
A teacher from Rochester, New York, said his students wanted to know why they choose to be astronauts, given the risk.
"I wouldn?t do this if I didn?t think it was [important]," Stott said. "I have a family at home, I have a young son. I truly believe that what we're doing up here is opening up new opportunities for him as well as for the rest of the world."
After the spaceflyers were cut off by the false alarm, NASA transitioned the event to the ground, where people could ask questions of astronaut Michael Fincke, who recently returned from a long-duration stint on the space station, as well as former astronaut Tom Jones.
Jones said the alarm wasn't all that uncommon, but that the astronauts still needed to diligently check it out.
"Every couple of days you're going to get something like that," he said, when a sensor reads a slightly higher or lower than expected level of cabin pressure, instrument voltage, or something similar.
NASA capped off the event by playing the song "Stargirl" by McFly, which NASA spokesman John Yembrick said many Twitter followers requested they play on the space station, because its space-related lyrics are so fitting.
"This is dedicated to all of our McFly fans that are following us at NASA," Yembrick said.
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