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Q&A With NASA Astronaut TJ Creamer, Who Sent The First Tweet From Outer Space

On January 22, 2010, NASA astronaut TJ Creamer made history.

Of the more than 500 astronauts and cosmonauts who have been into outer space, only one was the first to connect to the Internet and tweet from 250 miles above Earth. That’s TJ.

We shared with you yesterday the cool news that Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield was tweeting live form outer space last week with William Shatner, a.k.a. Captain Kirk. That technology was made possible by TJ’s groundbreaking tweet in 2010.

We had the opportunity to get some intel about the experience from the man himself.

First off, here’s the famous tweet:

TJ, alongside crew mates Jeff Williams and Soichi Noguchi, was using Twitter to keep the world updated about their mission.

More info, straight from TJ himself:

AllTwitter: First off: how many times have you been in outer space?

TJ: Once; for Expeditions 22 & 23 – just about 5.5 months.

AllTwitter: How would you describe the experience in 5 words or less?

TJ: Incredibly, unbelievably, breathtakingly, beautifully humbling.

AllTwitter: What’s the story behind how the space station obtained Internet access? How is it even possible to tweet from outer space?

TJ: In 2000, I helped to write the ISS [International Space Station] network requirements. Among the many, was the statement: Live, real-time, access to the Internet and web-browsing. (I also wrote: live, continuous sync email. Standby for about May or so of this year for THAT one!)

AllTwitter: Pretty awesome. So was sending the first tweet, once you were up in orbit, a cinch?

TJ: Jeff Williams, Commander for Expedition 22, had been up on orbit about 2 months before I got up there. He had been trying to get the onboard network to connect to the ground for those two months, and HE was supposed to be the first tweeter. I get up there, and he explains the problems he has been having. I start taking a look at the issue in my off/spare time.

I see the issue, and start stewing on how to conquer the problem, or get around it at least. Late, one Friday night, everyone else has gone to bed, and I’m fiddling. Got the laptops loaded, connected to the authenticating server, connected to the ground, and cried EUREKA. (Had I had delivered pizza, and dead soldiers (soda or beer) around, it would’ve been a classic GEEK NIGHT!) But there was no one around…. !! All were asleep. Rats. None to share this victory with. So, since I was connected, I sent out the tweet.

In the morning, I told Commander Jeff Williams that we were connected and that I sent out the tweet. He let me know that he was targeted for the first tweet, and I hung my head.

Rats! Dagnabit!

And, I watched Jeff go over to the laptop and try out the connection. What’s the first thing he does? Orders flowers to send to his wife.

DOUBLE Rats! Double-dagnabit! … But BRILLIANT!

AllTwitter: What a crazy story! Thanks so much for the insight. So the first tweet from outer space was sent at 2 a.m. — but does the space station have a standardized time zone? Since, flying through outer space, you were changing time zones roughly every 3.5 minutes, was it 2 a.m., no wait… 3 a.m., no wait…4 a.m.?

TJ: On ISS , we use GMT [Greenwich Mean Time] – as do all the control centers around the world. All of the control centers base their operations products off of GMT time, so that it syncs with the crew’s awareness on board. So, it was 0200 GMT, making it about 8 p.m. in Houston.

AllTwitter: Why tweet from outer space, rather than, say, post a Facebook update, or send an email?

TJ: While I was in training, NASA started spinning up their involvement in social media. Twitter was a birthing new outreach tool, that was something I got invited to participate in. My approach was to use it as an interactive communications tool: ask me questions, and I’d answer and share what we were doing.

Hence, since I started with Twitter, using that as the medium for involving folks who were interested, I stuck with it on orbit.

AllTwitter: That makes sense. One more question: the SETI Institute is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to explore and explain extraterrestrial intelligence. When you sent your first message did it get the folks at SETI all stirred up, thinking they had a hit?

TJ: Nah; they are listening with different ears than the Internet. But you’ve given me an idea for my next flight!

(Planet image from Shutterstock)

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