NASA’s guidelines for astronaut posting: No TikTok, don’t embarrass us

When NASA despatched Mike Massimino again to low-Earth orbit to service the Hubble Space Telescope in 2009, company staffers requested him if he’d thoughts doing one other chore whereas he was up there: draft the primary tweet despatched from house.

Massimino stated sure and didn’t suppose an excessive amount of else about it. The New York native did do not forget that when he was a youthful astronaut, Neil Armstrong had advised him that he hadn’t deliberate what he was going to say when he first landed on the moon throughout the Apollo missions far upfront. Massimino figured he may take the identical method.

“I’m trying on the pc, and I can’t consider a factor. I’m like, that’s the worst recommendation I ever received from Neil Armstrong,” Massimino, who’s now an engineering professor at Columbia, recalled of his time on the telescope. “I ended up simply placing no matter got here to the highest of my head.”

When he lastly received to the telescope, Massimino pulled out a pc and wrote up a tweet, noting that the launch was “superior” and he was “feeling nice.” His message was then despatched, by way of house electronic mail, again all the way down to Earth, the place a NASA staffer lastly posted it to Twitter. The tweet shortly went viral, and was subsequently skewered by Seth Meyers, who was then a number of Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” phase.

Of course, it’s now not 2009. Thanks to a software update in 2010 and a few much-improved bandwidth capability, it’s now attainable to tweet and take part in different types of social media from the International Space Station in real time. As a consequence, astronauts’ Twitter accounts are now not a novelty. They’re an lively a part of NASA’s social media technique, in accordance with documents obtained by Recode by means of a public information request. Astronauts might quickly be posting from even farther from Earth, as NASA begins its Artemis program to discover the moon. The first mission, which is uncrewed, launched early Wednesday and can lay the groundwork for the house company’s plan to return people, together with the primary lady and individual of coloration, to the lunar floor as early as 2025.

Still, the road between astronaut and influencer is barely set to develop extra advanced as we enter this subsequent house age. Along with a surging variety of non-public house launches for the ultra-wealthy, corporations like Virgin Galactic and Axiom are making ready to carry influencers, media productions, and even an entertainment studio to low-Earth orbit. And whereas social media posts will turn into demonstrations of conspicuous consumption for wealthy house vacationers, skilled astronauts touring for NASA will nonetheless be those charged with placing a face on humanity’s ventures into outer space.

NASA’s new moon rocket lifts off from Launch Pad 39B on the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on November 16. The launch is the primary flight check of the Artemis program.
John Raoux/AP

“You will be certain the NASA workforce and crewmembers might be sharing as typically as attainable throughout our missions to the moon and finally to Mars,” Reid Wiseman, former astronaut and the present head of the astronaut workplace, advised Recode.

The stakes are extremely excessive. Social media is only one small a part of the upcoming period of house exploration, however platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok are set to be one of many main ways in which the overwhelming majority of individuals right here on Earth will expertise house, and even the lunar floor.

NASA goes viral

It’s no accident that on the subject of media presence, NASA is arguably one of the vital profitable authorities companies on the planet. When the administration was established in 1958, it was directly charged with preserving the general public knowledgeable of its missions and work. Throughout its tenure, the house company has funded historical research, a fine arts program, and even established a television channel. Amid this effort, the company has additionally inspired its astronauts to pursue a form of celeb standing, and even framed them as national heroes akin to army leaders.

“Very clearly, there’s a relationship at NASA between the curiosity in getting data out about what they’re doing and the flexibility for folks to get enthusiastic about what they’re doing in order that it will get funded,” defined Margaret Weitekamp, the curator of the cultural historical past of spaceflight on the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.

Today, astronauts aren’t as well-known because the individuals who participated within the early house packages, however loads of present and former astronauts are lively and in style on social media. Massimino’s first tweet obtained simply over 2,000 likes — that’s viral by 2009 requirements — and he finally racked up greater than 1,000,000 followers.

“We have been among the many very first folks doing social media up in house,” stated Cady Coleman, who traveled to the International Space Station in 2011. “I actually cherished having, mainly, a conduit — a approach to share with folks. At the identical time, it’s a must to watch out and respectful … You don’t need to present a few of these experiments that is perhaps proprietary.”

Astronauts have branched out onto different platforms as they’ve turn into extra in style. When Wiseman was on the ISS in 2014, for instance, he posted the first Vine from house, a looping video of the ISS’s circulation across the Earth. Two years later, Mark Zuckerberg hosted the primary Facebook livestream with astronauts in house, and the corporate, now referred to as Meta, presently provides a virtual reality-based series contained in the ISS. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield famously filmed a viral music video for David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” when he was aboard the house station in 2013.

This is all a part of an intentional technique by NASA. An undated social media coaching presentation ready for astronaut candidates, which Recode obtained and NASA confirmed is the company’s most up to date model of the doc, says that the company has greater than 10 full-time social media managers and runs 700 social media accounts (and “rising”) associated to the company on a variety of platforms, together with on Reddit, LinkedIn, and Twitch. Astronauts are straight suggested on social media technique. The presentation provides ideas for vertical cropping, utilizing hashtags, writing efficient captions, and choosing subjects that come off as “cool/humorous.” Social media strategists on the European Space Agency (ESA), in the meantime, are in contact with astronauts each day, in accordance with Marco Trovatello, a communications officer on the ESA.

A NASA document titled “Why does NASA use social media?” that has been redacted.

This slide was the one redacted doc that Recode obtained after inquiring concerning the company’s astronaut social media pointers by means of a public information request.

“I’ve by no means as soon as been requested to assist push a NASA agenda by means of my social media,” Wiseman stated. He added that astronauts are allowed to “forge their very own” paths and that he didn’t see any of the astronauts as “influencers.”

Daniel Huot, from NASA public affairs, advised Recode that “every little thing we do is natural,” and that — exterior of recruiting on LinkedIn — the house company can’t use its funds for promoting, advertising, or promotion. Still, some have urged that NASA’s concentrate on social media is undermining its broader duty to have interaction with the general public.

Space additionally comes with its personal social media pointers, a minimum of should you’re touring with NASA’s assist. The present code of conduct for the International Space Station crew bars folks from appearing in any manner which may mirror “unfavorably in a public discussion board” or have an effect on the general public’s “confidence” within the integrity of any ISS companion, companion state, or cooperating company. NASA advised Recode that its employees is suggested to not use TikTok due to a US regulation barring the house company from participating with corporations owned by China. (Samantha Cristoforetti, an astronaut touring for the European Space Agency, revealed the first TikTok from the ISS this previous May.)

Earlier this 12 months, throughout the Axiom Mission 1, the primary all-private mission to the ISS, NASA required approval for social media posts, together with pictures and video, earlier than publication, in accordance with a presentation from the Johnson Space Center that Recode additionally obtained. Another doc exhibits that in March 2022, NASA established a brand new assessment course of to cope with pictures and social media created throughout non-public astronaut missions.

The politics of posting in orbit

Even the notion of politicization in house can spook officers, particularly these concerned with the ISS. Astronauts showing nonpartisan is usually commonplace working process.

In February of this 12 months, when Russia invaded Ukraine, Alison Koehler, a social media staffer on the European Space Agency, sent an email to Matthias Maurer, a German astronaut aboard the ISS. Before updating him on the followers he gained on his Twitter and Instagram accounts by means of February, she let him know that, amid the onslaught of conflict, the ESA thought Maurer ought to adapt his method to social media. Her request got here simply hours after the then-head of Russia’s house company, Dmitry Rogozin, publicly mused that Russia would possibly let the ISS, a strong image of post-Cold War collaboration with the United States, slowly deorbit, and presumably, deplete within the ambiance.

“I hope you’re doing okay. With the present assaults on Ukraine, we’re acutely aware of reaching the appropriate tone on social media and plan to focus extra on the science and operations you’re supporting on Station moderately than Earth imagery or extra different posts right now,” Koehler wrote. “Also, in mild of this, any extra imagery of life on board, science, operations and so forth. that you will have or have the ability to take over the weekend could be actually appreciated.”

Trovatello, the ESA consultant, stated that whereas the company doesn’t block astronauts from talking about any subject, all communications concerning Ukraine have been taken care of by the company’s director common.

“I had some guidelines for myself: Don’t speak politics, don’t speak faith,” André Kuipers, an ESA astronaut who traveled to the ISS twice, recalled that in his time on the station, he tried to concentrate on discussing science, know-how, and actions in house, and didn’t concentrate on topics like politics. “All optimistic issues,” he stated.

NASA’s aspiration to a minimum of preserve the looks of impartiality in house, even throughout conflicts on Earth, additionally applies to social media. In July 2018, Patrick G. Forrester, who was then chief of the astronaut workplace at NASA, despatched a memo to astronauts instructing them to “use discretion” expressing sympathy throughout occasions like terrorist actions or civil unrest, a minimum of on social media, as a result of doing so might be interpreted as a “political assertion.” NASA’S astronaut social media coaching presentation additionally features a reminder to maintain captions as “excessive degree” as attainable, particularly when describing geographical borders that is perhaps contested.

“My first gaffe was an image I posted and titled ‘Beautiful cross over the Falkland Islands,’” Within seconds I had folks commenting that they didn’t acknowledge that title however most popular ‘Malvinas Islands,’” Wiseman advised Recode. “This was a terrific second of studying for me and a transparent reminder that I used to be not an American in house, I used to be one in every of six Earthlings dwelling off of our planet.”

These tensions have continued to emerge amid Russia’s conflict in Ukraine. In March, officers privately questioned concerning the that means behind the fits worn by cosmonauts who arrived on the station that month, in accordance with emails obtained by Recode. Because the fits have been yellow and bore blue stripes, some speculated that they is perhaps a sign of help for Ukraine. (Russia later dismissed that concept.)

Even house vacationers who traveled on the non-public Axiom 1 mission to the ISS appear to have been briefed about pointers. Along with directions about promoting guidelines, they have been additionally instructed about answering questions on Russia and Ukraine, particularly as a result of they might, presumably, interact with the a number of cosmonauts aboard the house station. Axiom Space didn’t reply to a request for remark by the point of publication.

Eventually, NASA plans to start out utilizing corporate space stations that will service a number of international locations, together with media productions, which may create an entire new style of social media posts from house. At the identical time, different international locations are already shifting forward with constructing their very own house stations, and promoting them on social media, too. This is already the case with the Chinese social media platform Weibo and Tiangong, the house station that China’s house company completed earlier this fall.

“China acknowledged that it’ll make the most of its social media accounts to additional talk with Chinese audiences concerning the house missions and generate widespread enthusiasm and pleasure about China’s house program,” explains Namrata Goswami, an impartial house coverage knowledgeable. “It is working, given the widespread help in Chinese society for China’s funding in its house program for the lengthy haul.”

Coming to a moon close to you: posting

In advance of the Artemis 1 launch, NASA’s social media workforce ready by inviting influencers all the way down to Florida and inspiring folks to publish content material celebrating the mission on their stay tv broadcast, which additionally included answering questions from celebrities. That’s just the start: Now that its Orion capsule — which can finally carry astronauts — has begun its journey to the Moon, NASA says we are able to anticipate tons extra content material, together with pictures and video collected by the spacecraft’s exterior.

Guests on the Banana Creek viewing website watch the launch of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, carrying the Orion spacecraft on the Artemis I flight check, from Launch Pad 39B on the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on November 16.
Keegan Barber/NASA by way of Getty Images

“We anticipate to see every little thing from Snoopy floating contained in the capsule as our official zero gravity indicator to views of the Moon to our residence planet from the attitude of house,” Stephanie L. Smith, social media manager at NASA, advised Recode. “At splashdown, we’ll go stay once more with our many simulcasts and chats to share this flight check with as many individuals as attainable.”

Eventually, this might foreshadow astronauts posting on social media from and across the moon. Many of the astronauts chosen for the Artemis program have already developed social media followings, and NASA hyperlinks on to their Twitter and Instagram accounts on their official profiles. While the house company’s capacity to ship information throughout deep house moderately than simply from the ISS continues to be considerably restricted, the company will at a minimal have sufficient capability to ship messages again to Earth, the place there might be, in accordance with Huot from NASA public affairs, “personnel on the bottom out there for proxy posting.”

We don’t know what social media platform might be in vogue when astronauts do lastly land on the Moon (maybe we’ll quickly see the primary BeReal on the lunar floor). In the meantime, although, astronauts nonetheless have loads of different shops at their disposal, together with Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. While for many of us right here on Earth, these apps is perhaps simply one other approach to waste time on the web, they’re thought-about a type of public service for NASA crew members.

“99.9% of individuals won’t ever get to expertise what you’ll,” NASA says in its coaching paperwork. “Social media is an opportunity for them to expertise it by means of you.”



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