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

Astronaut Mike Massimino peers through a window on the aft flight deck of the Earth-orbiting Space Shuttle Atlantis on May 17, 2009.
Astronaut Mike Massimino friends by way of a window on the aft flight deck of the Earth-orbiting House Shuttle Atlantis on Might 17, 2009. | NASA; Getty Photographs; photograph illustration by Vox

Over 100 pages of paperwork present how the house company handles social media and discussions about Ukraine. 

When NASA despatched Mike Massimino again to low-Earth orbit to service the Hubble House 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 assume an excessive amount of else about it. The New York native did keep in mind that when he was a youthful astronaut, Neil Armstrong had informed him that he hadn’t deliberate what he was going to say when he first landed on the moon in the course of the Apollo missions far upfront. Massimino figured he might take the identical method.

“I’m trying on the laptop, and I can’t consider a factor. I’m like, that’s the worst recommendation I ever acquired 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 acquired 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 e mail, again right 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 bunch of Saturday Night time Dwell’s “Weekend Replace” section.

After all, it’s now not 2009. Because of a software program replace 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 Worldwide House Station in actual time. Because of this, astronauts’ Twitter accounts are now not a novelty. They’re an lively a part of NASA’s social media technique, in line with paperwork obtained by Recode by way of a public data request. Astronauts could quickly be posting from even farther from Earth, as NASA begins its Artemis program to discover the moon. The primary 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.

Nonetheless, the road between astronaut and influencer is just set to develop extra advanced as we enter this subsequent house age. Together with a surging variety of personal house launches for the ultra-wealthy, corporations like Virgin Galactic and Axiom are getting ready to deliver influencers, media productions, and even an leisure studio to low-Earth orbit. And whereas social media posts will turn out to be 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 house.

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

“You could be certain the NASA group and crewmembers shall be sharing as typically as attainable throughout our missions to the moon and ultimately to Mars,” Reid Wiseman, former astronaut and the present head of the astronaut workplace, informed 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 major 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 relating to media presence, NASA is arguably one of the profitable authorities companies on the earth. When the administration was established in 1958, it was straight charged with preserving the general public knowledgeable of its missions and work. All through its tenure, the house company has funded historic analysis, a effective arts program, and even established a tv channel. Amid this effort, the company has additionally inspired its astronauts to pursue a kind of movie star standing, and even framed them as nationwide heroes akin to navy leaders.

“Very clearly, there’s a relationship at NASA between the curiosity in getting info out about what they’re doing and the power for individuals 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 Nationwide Air and House Museum.

In the present day, 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 ultimately racked up greater than 1,000,000 followers.

“We had been among the many very first individuals doing social media up in house,” stated Cady Coleman, who traveled to the Worldwide House Station in 2011. “I actually liked having, principally, a conduit — a technique to share with individuals. On the similar time, you need 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 out to be extra in style. When Wiseman was on the ISS in 2014, for instance, he posted the primary Vine from house, a looping video of the ISS’s circulation across the Earth. Two years later, Mark Zuckerberg hosted the primary Fb livestream with astronauts in house, and the corporate, now referred to as Meta, at the moment affords a digital reality-based sequence contained in the ISS. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield famously filmed a viral music video for David Bowie’s “House Oddity,” when he was aboard the house station in 2013.

That 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 affords ideas for vertical cropping, utilizing hashtags, writing efficient captions, and deciding on matters that come off as “cool/humorous.” Social media strategists on the European House Company (ESA), in the meantime, are in contact with astronauts each day, in line with Marco Trovatello, a communications officer on the ESA.

A NASA document titled “Why does NASA use social media?” that has been redacted. NASA
This slide was the one redacted doc that Recode obtained after inquiring in regards to the company’s astronaut social media pointers by way of a public data request.

“I’ve by no means as soon as been requested to assist push a NASA agenda by way 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, informed Recode that “every little thing we do is natural,” and that — outdoors of recruiting on LinkedIn — the house company can’t use its funds for promoting, advertising and marketing, or promotion. Nonetheless, some have steered that NASA’s deal with social media is undermining its broader accountability to have interaction with the general public.

House 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 Worldwide House Station crew bars individuals from performing in any approach that may mirror “unfavorably in a public discussion board” or have an effect on the general public’s “confidence” within the integrity of any ISS associate, associate state, or cooperating company. NASA informed Recode that its employees is suggested to not use TikTok due to a US regulation barring the house company from partaking with corporations owned by China. (Samantha Cristoforetti, an astronaut touring for the European House Company, printed the primary TikTok from the ISS this previous Might.)

Earlier this yr, in the course of the Axiom Mission 1, the primary all-private mission to the ISS, NASA required approval for social media posts, together with photographs and video, earlier than publication, in line with a presentation from the Johnson House Middle that Recode additionally obtained. One other doc reveals that in March 2022, NASA established a brand new evaluation course of to cope with photographs and social media created throughout personal 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 normal working process.

In February of this yr, when Russia invaded Ukraine, Alison Koehler, a social media staffer on the European House Company, despatched an e mail to Matthias Maurer, a German astronaut aboard the ISS. Earlier than updating him on the followers he gained on his Twitter and Instagram accounts by way of February, she let him know that, amid the onslaught of struggle, 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 may let the ISS, a robust image of post-Chilly Battle collaboration with the US, slowly deorbit, and presumably, fritter away within the ambiance.

“I hope you’re doing okay. With the present assaults on Ukraine, we’re acutely aware of reaching the proper tone on social media and plan to focus extra on the science and operations you’re supporting on Station relatively than Earth imagery or extra different posts right now,” Koehler wrote. “Additionally, in mild of this, any extra imagery of life on board, science, operations and so forth. that you’ll 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 relating to Ukraine had been taken care of by the company’s director normal.

“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 deal with discussing science, know-how, and actions in house, and didn’t deal with 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 may very well be interpreted as a “political assertion.” NASA’S astronaut social media coaching presentation additionally features a reminder to maintain captions as “excessive stage” as attainable, particularly when describing geographical borders that is perhaps contested.

“My first gaffe was an image I posted and titled ‘Lovely cross over the Falkland Islands,’” Inside seconds I had individuals commenting that they didn’t acknowledge that title however most well-liked ‘Malvinas Islands,’” Wiseman informed Recode. “This was an awesome 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 residing off of our planet.”

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

Even house vacationers who traveled on the personal Axiom 1 mission to the ISS appear to have been briefed about pointers. Together with directions about promoting guidelines, they had been additionally instructed about answering questions on Russia and Ukraine, particularly as a result of they may, presumably, work together with the a number of cosmonauts aboard the house station. Axiom House didn’t reply to a request for remark by the point of publication.

Ultimately, NASA plans to start out utilizing company house stations which will service a number of nations, together with media productions, which might create a complete new style of social media posts from house. On the similar time, different nations are already transferring forward with constructing their very own house stations, and promoting them on social media, too. That is already the case with the Chinese language social media platform Weibo and Tiangong, the house station that China’s house company accomplished earlier this fall.

“China said that it’ll make the most of its social media accounts to additional talk with Chinese language audiences in regards to the house missions and generate widespread enthusiasm and pleasure about China’s house program,” explains Namrata Goswami, an unbiased house coverage professional. “It’s working, given the widespread assist in Chinese language society for China’s funding in its house program for the lengthy haul.”

Coming to a moon close to you: posting

Upfront of the Artemis 1 launch, NASA’s social media group ready by inviting influencers right down to Florida and inspiring individuals to put up content material celebrating the mission on their dwell tv broadcast, which additionally included answering questions from celebrities. That’s only the start: Now that its Orion capsule — which can ultimately carry astronauts — has begun its journey to the Moon, NASA says we are able to anticipate tons extra content material, together with photographs and video collected by the spacecraft’s exterior.

 Keegan Barber/NASA by way of Getty Photographs
Friends on the Banana Creek viewing website watch the launch of NASA’s House Launch System rocket, carrying the Orion spacecraft on the Artemis I flight take a look at, from Launch Pad 39B on the Kennedy House Middle in Florida on November 16.

“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 house planet from the angle of house,” Stephanie L. Smith, social media supervisor at NASA, informed Recode. “At splashdown, we’ll go dwell once more with our many simulcasts and chats to share this flight take a look at with as many individuals as attainable.”

Ultimately, this might foreshadow astronauts posting on social media from and across the moon. Lots 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. Whereas the house company’s potential to ship knowledge throughout deep house relatively than simply from the ISS remains to be considerably restricted, the company will at a minimal have sufficient capability to ship messages again to Earth, the place there shall be, in line with Huot from NASA public affairs, “personnel on the bottom accessible for proxy posting.”

We don’t know what social media platform shall be in vogue when astronauts do lastly land on the Moon (maybe we’ll quickly see the primary BeReal on the lunar floor). Within the meantime, although, astronauts nonetheless have loads of different retailers at their disposal, together with Twitter, Fb, and Instagram. Whereas for many of us right here on Earth, these apps is perhaps simply one other technique 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 way of you.”

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