Sharing an out-of-this-world experience 140 characters at a time

by Emily Donohue on July 22, 2014

On Thursday, July 24, Wiseman and fellow Astronaut Steve Swanson will be speaking live with the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee from the International Space Station. Watch the conversation live at 11 a.m. or follow it on twitter using the hashtag #LiveFromSpace.

In just 140 characters NASA Astronaut Reid Wiseman is bringing his 167,000 (and counting) Twitter followers aboard the International Space Station (ISS) several times a day, sharing the amazing and mundane details of life in space. His stunning photos are retweeted hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of times. His Vines – six-second video clips shared on a social media platform – garner incredulous reactions from his Earth-bound fans and are the first to ever be shared from space.

“7 days ago the thought of being in space gave me chills of excitement. Now it seems completely normal. Odd feeling,” he wrote June 5.

Social media sometimes gets a bad rap as the bastion of navel-gazers, but Wiseman is proving that stargazing has a place on social media, too. For all the beauty of his photos, it’s the tweets about everyday life in zero gravity that capture Wiseman’s humor and sense of wonder about his unfathomable circumstances. “I read before bed. It still doesn’t feel right to hold a weightless book. My mind doesn’t like it one bit,” the astronaut shared with his followers on June 15.

This is the first space mission for the naval aviator-turned-astronaut who graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1997 with a bachelor’s degree in computer and systems engineering. He went on to earn a master’s degree in systems engineering at Johns Hopkins University and then attended the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School. He flew missions around the world as a naval aviator before being selected to join NASA’s astronaut corps in 2009. Wiseman traveled to the ISS on May 28 aboard a Russian Soyuz with German astronaut Alexander Gerst and Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev.

He’s the second Rensselaer graduate to travel to space just this year. Rick Mastracchio, a 1987 graduate of the Rensselaer Hartford Campus, completed his fourth mission into space just days before Wiseman traveled to the ISS. In a conversation with Rensselaer students from the ISS in April, Mastracchio said he shares Wiseman’s affinity for views of the Earth from space. “You spend your whole life trying to get off the Earth, it seems like, and then as soon as you get into low Earth orbit, the first thing you do is turn around and look back at the Earth and see how beautiful it was and you miss it almost instantly,” he said.

Wiseman has marveled at the way life in zero gravity affects his body: “Laughed so hard I cried yesterday during dinner with @msuraev @astro_alex. Tears don’t run down your cheeks in space,” he wrote June 7. And on July 21, after nearly two months in space: “My body is changing. New muscle forming on front side lower leg near shin. Must be from using tops of feet to hold me down.”

Judging by Wiseman’s dispatches, there’s plenty of fun and camaraderie among the astronauts and cosmonauts about the ISS. After losing a bet on the outcome of the United States vs. Germany World Cup match in July (Germany beat the U.S. 1-0), Wiseman gamely let Gerst shave his head: “It was nice to wake up this morning and not worry about my hair. There isn’t any,” he tweeted. Some tweets just hint at space shenanigans: “You can sneak up on someone REALLY quietly when you’re floating,” he wrote on June 20.

Wiseman’s tweets give his earthbound followers just enough detail about life in space to allow their imaginations to run wild. He describes the smell (“like wet clothes after rolling in snow”), stargazing in the dark (“Too amazing. Actually looked fake.”), floating while blindfolded (“immediate disorientation”) and the amazing relativity of distance (“It is still impossible to wrap my head around the view. Just saw every place I’ve ever lived in 10 minutes.”).

Of course, we here at Rensselaer are a little partial to one of Wiseman’s tweets above all the others: his July 6 aerial shot of Troy, NY and shout-out to his alma mater.

Right back at you, Commander Reid!