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Using Twitter To Learn More About Space

Frequent visitors to this site, more than likely, have heard a little about the social-networking platform Twitter. Yet even if you've clicked on the frontpage link and done some searching around, you might not know that much of what Twitter's really about—or how you can use it to get the insider's perspective on space.

 Twitter logo, credit: Twitter.com

First, the extreme basics: Twitter is a site that allows users to post short messages of no more than 140 characters. These messages can then be sent and received on the Internet, via text message, or through your Blackberry or iPhone. Users can 'follow' other users, which adds their message feed to your Twitter home page, and send public or private messages to these same users.

 

The “common wisdom” about Twitter is that it's a place for teenagers and twenty-somethings to post blurbs to their friends about the club they're at, or the ham sandwich that they're eating. Although there are people who use Twitter for just that, such a perspective severely understates Twitter's potential. The Twitter platform is uniquely designed to provide any kind of brief, real-time updates that one can imagine. Getting the point across in 140 characters can be difficult for the writer, but for the reader it simply means getting straight to the point. From the latest news stories (@Newsweek), to results of Senate floor votes (@SenateFloor), to discounts on Dell computers (@DellOutlet), Twitter is your go-to site.

 

With about 1.5 million active Twitterers, Twitter has a relatively small user base compared to Facebook, MySpace, or even smaller networks like LinkedIn. One group that's especially cottoned to Twitter, though, is the space industry. @NASA has made over 1,100 updates on Twitter since December 2007, and teams working on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (@LRO_NASA) and the @NASA_EDGE podcast, amongst many others, also update frequently. These updates are often links to longer articles hosted off-Twitter, but just as frequently announce mission simulations, detail exoplanet discoveries, and make other announcements too short or specialized to be picked up elsewhere. (No discussion of Twitter and space exploration would be complete without at least a brief mention of @MarsPhoenix, which became one of the ten most popular accounts on Twitter before the mission was ended in November 2008.)

 Screenshot of NASA Twitter feed

Twitter often sees updates from space exploration figures such as NASA Ames Center Director Pete @worden, @KeithCowing, and space correspondent @MilesOBrien, who recently announced his appointment to the Challenger Center Board of Directors on his Twitter feed. Employees of Masten Space Systems, XCOR and many other space companies Tweet about meetings and engine tests, as do members from groups like the Google Lunar X PRIZE (@glxp). Mike Fabio, the man behind @glxp, has a much more comprehensive list of space-related 'Twitterers' to follow; it can be checked out at http://thelaunchpad.xprize.org/2008/12/top-ten-space-people-and-organizations.html. @glxp also hosts weekly “Friday Fun Days”, interactive projects that are just one example of Twitter's communicative nature.

 

Twitter will (likely) never be the first stop for detailed stories or drawn-out analysis, but for quick, fresh updates and inside perspectives it can be a space enthusiast's dream. Visit some of the links above, create an account and join in the conversation!

 

Brice Russ (@kilroywashere) is the New Media Coordinator for 4Frontiers Corporation (@4frontiers).

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