April 08, 2009, 9:10 PM — A NASA space shuttle astronaut is using Twitter to provide an online audience with an inside look at how he and his colleagues are getting ready for their mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope next month.
Mission specialist Mike Massimino may have only made 11 posts to date, but those have attracted more than 14,300 followers on the micro-blogging site. Massimino, whose Twitter username is Astro_Mike, is training to fly aboard space shuttle Atlantis and is expected to make a spacewalk during the mission, which is set to launch May 12.
NASA noted that this will be Massimino's second trip into space. In 2002, he flew on the STS-109 mission, which also traveled to the Hubble telescope. He made two spacewalks during that mission.
While training for the latest mission, Massimino has been tweeting about his practice runs in a flight simulator, cooking tostadas for his family and learning how to take video of the shuttle's landing from the window of the spacecraft.
Twitter is becoming a key technology for many people at NASA.
Engineers working on robotic Mars rovers and others at NASA's Ames Research Center and Mars Science Laboratory have been posting on Twitter for all to see for some time. The NASA workers who Twittered about the Mars Phoenix Lander before it froze to death on the Red Planet last fall pulled in more than 43,000 followers.
NASA hasn't said yet whether Massimino plans to Twitter during the shuttle flight. NASA officials are expected to talk more about the mission on Monday.
Space shuttle Atlantis is expected to spend 11 days in space, with astronauts making a total of five spacewalks to repair and upgrade the telescope. Last fall, a failed computer in Hubble, forced NASA to remotely switch the orbiter over to an onboard backup system. NASA engineers made the switchover from a room in the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. while the telescope hurtled along its orbit around Earth at 17,500 mph.
The space shuttle Atlantis had been scheduled to go service the Hubble last fall, but the mission was postponed because of the telescope's computer problems. It was rescheduled for May 12, when astronauts will bring up a new backup computer system to the telescope.
After the astronaut's visit, NASA says Hubble's capabilities will be expanded and its lifetime extended through at least 2014.