Space Shuttle Atlantis sailed smoothly into orbit today with six astronauts and a full load of spare parts for the International Space Station (ISS). Watching from front-row seats were 100 Internet-savvy NASA fans cheering on the shuttle and churning out constant Twitter updates.
The tweeps, as they are called, represent 21 states plus the District of Columbia, as well as five countries, including Morocco and New Zealand. They traveled to the launch at their own expense, after NASA invited its Twitter followers to sign up online for the chance to see a space shuttle launch up close. The 100 slots and 50 backup positions filled in less than 20 minutes on the 16 October 2009.
With only six shuttle flights remaining and still no word from the White House on a future course for astronauts, NASA is tapping into social media such as Twitter, Facebook and the like to spread its message about the need to stay in space. Astronauts have been tweeting from Earth and orbit since spring, while NASA has already held a few tweetups.
NASA estimates the 100 have more than 150,000 Twitter followers. It’s a dream outreach program for a space agency looking to drum up support. Even the most staid NASA types see the benefit of reaching out to a younger, hipper crowd.
Meanwhile, Britain’s aspirations to become a spacefaring nation inched a little closer as thousands of microscopic worms were aboard Atlantis as it launched from Cape Canaveral for the mission to the international space station. To find out more on this story, see Worms from Bristol rubbish tip journey to the space station