NASA astronaut says he will Twitter from space

Atlantis shuttle specialist says NASA is working out plan to let him post Tweets from orbit

A NASA astronaut Thursday said he'll be Twittering from the space shuttle Atlantis next month as it travels to and from its mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope.

Mission specialist Mike Massimino, who has been using Twitter for a little more than two weeks as he trained for the mission, said during a press conference Thursday that he will Twitter from orbit when it won't interfere with the busy schedule of the seven astronauts onboard the Atlantis. Joking that he won't be bringing his Blackberry into space, Massimino said he wasn't yet sure how the team would work out the technical issues.

"We're going to be really busy so I'm not sure how much we'll do this from orbit," he said. "I'll try to do it when I have free time in between missions. I can't make any promises but I'm going to try."

Massimino has been posting regular Tweets about the training process, along with updates about doctor's visits, press interviews and backyard barbecues. He told Computerworld last week that NASA's public relations team first suggested Twittering about his training since he'd never even tried it before. Now with 50 Tweets under his belt, he already has more than 113,000 followers.

"The whole Twitter experience has been great fun," he said today. "As astronauts, we look for ways to share the experience of what we do. The opportunity to use Twitter has been great because, by definition, it has to be short messages ... and I can fit it in."

Massimino, who will be one of the astronauts assigned to working the space shuttle's robotic arm to grab onto and manipulate the Hubble telescope, said in a previous interview that NASA has not limited what he can Twitter about.

What the astronaut hasn't Twittered about yet is whether or not NASA is going to move the mission's launch date up a day. Various news outlets have been reporting that NASA is considering moving the launch date from May 12 to May 11, which would give the space agency three possible launch dates, according to a CNN report.

The space shuttle Atlantis crew had been scheduled to service the Hubble telescope last fall, but the mission was postponed because of a failed computer onboard the orbiter. NASA engineers were forced to remotely switch the spacecraft over to an onboard backup system, working 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.

In the upcoming mission, astronauts will bring up new instrumentation, new batteries and a new camera that is designed to give the orbiter the ability to see 10 times farther and faster, according to Massimino, whose Twitter username is "Astro_Mike."

Hubble's capabilities will be expanded and its lifetime extended through at least 2014 due to the service mission, NASA said.

This will be Massimino's second trip into space. In 2002, he flew on the STS-109 mission, which also traveled to the Hubble Space Telescope. He made two spacewalks during that mission.

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