Science & Astronomy
17. May 2013

On Monday, three astronauts, Chris Hadfield, Tom Marshburn and Roman Romanenko returned from their half-year-stay on the International Space Station. While two of them were and still are Twitter users, it was especially Canadian Chris Hadfield who had really made internet history by not only sending daily images of earth from space, but also engaging in active social media outreach by filming videos, making music and giving lots and lots of interviews. His farewell gift from orbit, a wonderful cover version of David Bowie’s Space Oddity, has accumulated over 13 million views on the original Youtube video alone. What is even more amazing about his work is that he did it not as part of an orchestrated media campaign, but in his free time mostly all by himself and with the help of his son Evan.

It took a Canadian astronaut aboard the International Space Station to bring human spaceflight back into public awareness – not because he was told to, but because it was his personal choice. Chris Hadfield had actually been up in space two times before – in 1995 he flew with STS-74 to the russian space station Mir and six years later in 2001 he was part of the STS-100 mission to the new ISS, performing two spacewalks with his NASA colleague Scott Parazynski to install the Canadarm2 on the station. He was the first Canadian astronaut to walk in space – but these missions were only eight and eleven days long. His next spaceflight to his long-duration mission on the ISS came more than ten years later and gave him the opportunity to do what had not been possible before on his earlier missions due to time constraints – to share his incredible experience with the world. It’s fortunate that his time in space coincided with the emergence of social media, only five years ago all his efforts may not have been possible in this way.

Since the one half of Expedition 35 has come back to earth, there has been virtual radio silence to the public from the ISS. No more Twitter, Facebook or Google+ postings, no direct words from the astronauts themselves apart from a recent hangout with the actors of the new Star Trek movie. So why isn’t NASA stepping up to continue the wonderful outreach work of Chris Hadfield? There was a short artice in the Washington Post yesterday about this question and the answer was not altogether surprising: the NASA astronauts might not be allowed the same freedom Chris Hadfield has at the Canadian Space Agency, or at least they’re afraid that their activities in their free time might be seen as a misuse of government funds. With the sequester going on in Washington and NASA putting most of its education and outreach activities on the shelf, it’s completely understandable that most NASA personnel, maybe even including the astronauts themselves are not in a position to do much at the moment… but it’s a sad situation nevertheless.

But there is hope: both Karen L. Nyberg and Luca Parmitano, who are launching to the ISS on May 28th are active Twitter users and even now are busy tweeting about the launch preparations. And Chris Hadfield has also not gone silent after the landing – he is still reporting about his recovery process on earth and yesterday mentioned that he still has thousands of unreleased photos left which he is going to share daily. The adventure is still continuing…!

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