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Tweeting from the Void - How Social Media has Connected Astronauts to Earth

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It's lonely out there in the black, and if Gravity taught us anything, it's also relentlessly hostile. Science fiction is rife with stories of space travellers losing their minds as they drift through the endless darkness, cut-off from human contact, fresh air, green grass or just about any other tangible reminder of home. Although 'space adaptation syndrome' is a very real and well documented risk, extreme cases of depression or even madness caused by prolonged periods in space have yet to occur. Oddly enough, social media has played a vital role in keeping astronauts in high spirits in recent years.



The successful test of an internet connection in space was a 2010 tweet sent by astronaut T.J. Creamer (embedded above) from the ISS, elatedly announcing the newly forged connectivity, and since then social media, and Twitter in particular, has provided a vital bridge between astronauts and their grounded friends, family and fans. Video and voice chat platforms have also played a really significant role in maintaining contact, although they have to rely on purpose built programs for that, rather than say, Skype.

From an Earthling point of view, it's made it that much easier to see and interact with updates from space in real time, as an image of Earth taken from the ISS can be accessed practically instantaneously. Getting a deeper insight into what they're actually doing up there is also ceaselessly fascinating. You can get such a ridiculously tightly focused look at the lives of people like Kim Kardashian or any of the rest of her clan now, it's beggar's belief why anyone would care, but with an astronaut, even the most mundane aspects of their routine are legitimately interesting enough to want to hear more about.

In a recent tweet, the ISS team revealed that they were being treated to an early premier screening of Ridley Scott's The Martian. A similar thing happened with Gravity, which strikes me as flagrantly irresponsible, since that film equates space to some kind of tormenting, violent monster that follows you around with a cartoonishly oversized club.



A lot of the time though, what the astronauts do with their downtime would be interesting even if they weren't in space. Last year, Chris Hadfield rounded out his 4-and-a-bit month stint on the ISS by recording a cover version of David Bowie's 'Space Oddity'. He had already accrued over 1,000,000 followers during his time on the station, but this video outperformed even that lofty achievement, to date it has pulled in over 26,000,000 views and is still gaining.

   

From a psychological standpoint, having such a consistent connection to Earth must be massively beneficial. As the technology continues to progress, astronauts are only going to spend increasingly longer stints in outer space and we know precious little about how that will affect them. Beyond that, serious inroads are being made with commercial space travel, and the notion of someone who lacks any kind of formal training being blasted into the stratosphere raises all manner of new questions.

The most significant future development though is actual interplanetary colonisation. It might seem like a distant dream, but yesterday's science fiction is today's science fact. Several different people have developed rudimentary warp drives and despite the continuous cries of 'no way', the Mars One project continues to trundle forward. Social media, and anything else that provides a safe, recognisable link to home turf, is going to be invaluable to the earliest out-world settlers. In some ways, it might end up being the most important role social media has ever played.


Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF

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Tweeting from the Void - How Social Media has Connected Astronauts to Earth Reviewed by Callum Davies on Tuesday, September 22, 2015 Rating: 5

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