Monday, June 15, 2015

10 Reasons Why I Love Twitter #1: Tweeting Astronauts

As I’m squarely situated in the the middle-ish age range, Twitter usage among my friends, acquaintances and colleagues in my peer group seems pretty thin. When it does happen, I rarely see the enthusiasm and consistency that's in my daily tweet stream. So I often find myself explaining "why I do Twitter", "how I put up with the garbage on Twitter", "why Twitter is not a waste of my time", and so on. 

My response is to turn negative misconceptions around and explain why I enjoy Twitter and how it benefits me on many levels.

I have these conversations so frequently that I might as well write an explainer I can point to when questions from non-Twitter users come up in the future. 

Reason #1 is below.

#2 - #10 will be published in installments as I have time.

10 Reasons Why I Love Twitter

#1: Tweeting Astronauts ~ 

There are dozens, possibly well over a 100 astronauts active on Twitter. By "astronauts" I mean active or retired members of NASA and other astronaut corps (e.g., Roscomos, ESA, CSA, JAXA) who are in space, have been to space, or are training to go to space.

Yes, there are astronauts tweeting from the International Space Station, every day. Currently there is one space-based tweeter: Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly). There are three astronauts on the ISS at the moment; when there's the usual crew of six aboard, you can find two or three astronauts sending daily tweets from space.

You need only scroll through my Twitter timeline pictures (@ct_la) to see breathtaking vistas of our home planet and fascinating images of life on orbit at our human outpost in space.

Astronauts have been tweeting from the ISS since 2009. The myriad images of our fragile Earth have changed the mental representation I had of our planet. I love maps and my walls are full of them. Sometime around 2010 or so, I found myself looking at a physical map of the U.K. and said "Wait a minute. That is NOT what England really looks like!" By then I had seen dozens of images of Europe from space and become accustomed to the fact that in those images North is not always up, curvature of the Earth is an important marker and non-natural boundaries so common on conventional maps are non-existent. Now, when I think of, for example, Turkey, I don’t envision a map-like representation. Instead, I think of an image like this:

Image of western Turkey 
Tweeted by Samantha Cristoforetti (@Astro_Samantha) from the ISS on June 2, 2015 

It’s not easy to pick the one most awesome thing an astronaut has ever tweeted from space, but if I have to choose, I'll go with Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield’s (@Cmdr_Hadfield) rendition of David Bowie’s "Space Oddity", performed in microgravity. 

If you have a different all-time-favorite tweet from space, please tweet it @ me or leave a comment. I might have missed something! 

Earth-bound astronauts also provide plenty of twitter entertainment, education and fun. One of my favorites is Apollo-era moon walker Buzz Aldrin (@TheRealBuzz), who travels widely to do outreach for his "Get Yo Ass To Mars" campaign and, of course, tweets about it.

Another favorite is retired NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson (@Astro_Clay) who is a prolific daily tweeter and widely appreciated for consistently engaging his followers. This is, in fact, such an awesome Twitter perk that I wrote a separate post about it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

@Astro_Terry's Goodbye Gift From Orbit

Tomorrow, June 11, NASA astronaut Terry W. Wirts (@Astro_Terry on twitter) is returning to Earth from an almost 200-day stay on the orbital outpost, along with this two crew mates, ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti (@Astro_Samantha) and Russian Cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov (@AntonAstrey).

While aboard the station, Samantha Cristoforetti broke the record for most consecutive days spent in space by a woman (199 days), a record previously held by Sunita Williams (194 days).

Undocking of the Soyuz from the ISS is currently scheduled for 3:20 a.m. PDT June 11, with touchdown on the Kazakh steppe projected for 6:43 am PDT. NASA and ESA will have live feeds. On the US West Coast, you'll have to get up early to watch.

This morning on twitter, prior to his departure from the orbital outpost, @Astro_Terry left us with an incredible image of some of the most recognizable and ancient human-built structures on Earth. Ponder the geometry and remember - construction on these pyramids started 4.5 millennia ago.

Can you name the three main Pyramids of Giza without looking it up?

Monday, June 8, 2015

SpaceX Does Kubrick Does The Future Is Now

It was 1866 when Johann Strauss II composed his waltz An der schönen blauen Donau (On The Beautiful Blue Danube, aka The Blue Danube or The Blue Danube Waltz). I wonder if Strauss ever dreamed that his composition would become timelessly famous and symbolize humanity's evolution into a space-faring species.

Here is the clip from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, the vehicle that elevated The Blue Danube - along with the film's entire sound track - to lasting global fame. The movie was released in 1968, 102 years after Strauss composed the waltz, depicting a world set 33 years in the future, 14 years in our past.

And here is real life, today, 2015: SpaceX released a jaw-dropping video of a Falcon 9 nose shroud falling back to Earth: has more information about the making of this video here.

Full disclosure: I learned to waltz to The Blue Danube. And yes, I know how to waltz. It's practically impossible to get out of Germany without learning that.