May 12, 2009, 8:26 PM — Twitter hit a new milestone today.
A NASA astronaut sent the first Twitter message from space with a post going up on the micro-blogging site at about 4:30 p.m. EDT today. The tweet came in the space shuttle Atlantis' first full day in space on a mission to repair and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope.
"From orbit: Launch was awesome!! I am feeling great, working hard, & enjoying the magnificent views, the adventure of a lifetime has begun!" wrote Massimino, who has been Twittering about his mission training for the past month.
NASA's Atlantis craft blasted off Monday afternoon and reached orbit within 9 minutes. With the fiery liftoff, the seven-astronaut crew began its 11-day mission to repair and upgrade the Hubble telescope, which is orbiting about 350 miles above Earth. The shuttle mission -- the last one going to the Hubble -- is expected to give the orbiter at least another five years of life, according to the space agency.
The shuttle is scheduled to rendezvous with Hubble on Wednesday, when mission specialist and Twitterer Massimino will use the shuttle's robotic arm to reach out and grab the orbiter and pull it into the shuttle's payload bay. On Thursday, two astronauts will make the first of the mission's five spacewalks.
Massimino's Tweet didn't mention NASA's disclosure today that an examination found that the heat shield on Atlantis suffered some dsamage during the liftoff yesterday.
The inspection found multiple dings in Atlantis' critical outer tiles. The scratches were found on the forward part of the shuttle's right wing close to where it connects to the fuselage, according to NASA spokeswoman Katherine Trinidad. NASA said the damage, found on four different heat shield tiles, looks minor, but will continue to be evaluated while the craft is orbiting about 350 miles above the Earth.
The damage appears to be related to a debris impact that occurred about 104 seconds after the Atlantis lifted off the ground, NASA said.
NASA has been especially diligent about studying the heat shields since the space shuttle Columbia broke apart upon re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003. According to NASA, an investigation found that the disaster was caused by a hole in the heat-resistant panels that protected the wing from the high temperatures of re-entry.