In Google+ hangout, astronauts talk tech, Isaac Newton and Twitter

This marked the first hangout with astronauts onboard the International Space Station

Astronauts onboard the International Space Station didn't panic when their communication link to the ground was cut off this week.

That's the word from members of the space station crew who took questions Friday during a Google+ hangout . They also talked about why they use Twitter, what scientist they'd like to bring into space and what inspires them.

Google+ hangout
NASA astronauts on board the International Space Station took questions today during a Google+ hangout.

It was the first Google+ hangout with astronauts living on the space station.

"I don't think anybody tries to use technology to push back the edge of human experience more than we do," said Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut working as an engineer on the space station. "We try to improve our understanding as a species. We're leaving Earth. It's too good an experience not to share. With the technology we have, we can real-time communicate with just about anybody on Earth who has a computer or an iPhone."

Hadfield said he uses Twitter to share his everyday experiences in space.

"It's a great way to communicate the thoughts and emotions we're having," Hadfield said during the hangout. "As far as being a media star, this is a really rare human experience and we know how lucky we are to be here."

The Google+ hangout function supports face-to-face online chats for as many as 10 people, though thousands can watch the chats live on Google+ or YouTube.

People participating in the space station hangout asked the astronauts questions, and others submitted video questions via YouTube, using the hashtag #askAstro.

This is Google's second high-profile hangout in just a week.

Late last week, President Obama hosted a hangout, taking questions about gun violence, math and science, and making computer programming a required high school course.

During Friday's hangout, Hadfield was asked a question about this week's communications failure and how it affected the people onboard the space station.

On Wednesday, NASA engineers were upgrading the space station's command and control software when communications collapsed as they made the transition from the main computer to a backup system.

When the orbiter flew over Russian ground stations, NASA was able to use the stations' antennas to connect with the crew and tell them to connect another computer to restore communications. NASA lost contact with the space station for nearly three hours.

Hadfield, said the astronauts -- orbiting 250 miles above the Earth - didn't panic.

"We trained for many, many years and we've been together as a crew for a while," he noted." We're ready for many things. We worked together as a crew following the procedures as to what to do. The people on the ground were scrambling and working hard.... It wasn't panic. We were working together as a team. It's just things that happen in space."

Kevin Ford, a NASA astronaut and space station commander, fielded a question about what students should study if they want to become astronauts or work in the aeronautics field.

"It's almost overwhelming all the choices that are offered to you," he said. "I love math, and I love physics. And I had very enthusiastic teachers.... We have a life support system onboard that is very chemistry-intensive. We talk chemistry every day. We use math every day. It's a lot of complicated science to make this all work."

Ford added that students should take all the classes they can. "You might need them all if you end up in the space business," he said.

Ford also noted that the first thing that inspired him to become an astronaut was reading the book Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journeys, written by Michael Collins, who was on the Apollo 11 mission to the moon.

"I really just fell in love with that profession because of that book," he said. "What he did, the trip he took to the moon with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, that really started it all off for me."

So which scientist would the astronauts like to take into space with them?

For flight engineer Tom Marshburn, the answer was simple: physicist and mathematician Isaac Newton.

"We see what he could only imagine," said Marshburn said. "It's really hard to believe that he could imagine these things, and it would be great if he could see it."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter, at @sgaudin, and on Google+, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is

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