It's one small click for astronauts, but one giant leap for the Internet. Astronauts on the International Space Station finally have a live Internet connection and made their first direct Twitter post Friday to prove it.
"Hello Twitterverse!" NASA astronaut Timothy "T.J." Creamer posted on his Twitter page as @Astro_TJ. "We r now LIVE tweeting from the International Space Station -- the 1st live tweet from Space! :) More soon, send your ?s."
Astronauts have used Twitter during space missions before. But those messages were relayed through Mission Control and posted by a third party. Live Internet connections were not available due to technical and security concerns, NASA officials said.
Now, space station astronauts — there are five of them in orbit today — can post their Twitter updates themselves, and they don't have to stop there. They can surf the Internet, just like folks on Earth, and ease the isolation of long months flying 220 miles (354 km) above the planet.
"It's mostly for personal use," NASA spokesperson Kelly Humphries told SPACE.com.
Creamer, who launched to the space station in December, has been working with engineers on Earth during his free time to load new software and tackle other technical glitches to make the space station's Internet access a reality.
Humphries said the space Internet uses the station's high-speed Ku-band antenna, so it is active whenever the station has that connection. To surf the Web, astronauts can use a station laptop to control a desktop computer on Earth. It is that ground computer that has the physical connection to the Internet.
There are security restrictions in place to protect the Internet portal, which NASA is calling the Crew Support LAN (Local Access Network).
The International Space Station is home to two Americans — Creamer and fellow NASA astronaut Jeff Williams — as well as Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotovand Maxim Suraev, and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi.
In addition to the Internet portal, station crews can use an Internet Protocol phone to call their families and friends on Earth, as well as set up video conferences every now and then. Lately, station astronauts have used Twitter to keep the public updated about their spaceflights and mission training.
Creamer, Williams (@Astro_Jeff) and Noguchi (@Astro_Soichi) are all currently tweeting from the space station.