Astronauts can now surf the Web, Tweet from space

The International Space Station received an upgrade this week that gives astronauts aboard personal access to the Internet.

Shortly after the software update, flight engineer T.J. Creamer sent the first unassisted update to his Twitter account.

"Hello Twitterverse! We r now LIVE tweeting from the International Space Station -- the 1st live tweet from Space! :) More soon, send your ?s," wrote Creamer.

Typically astronauts would e-mail messages from space to the ground where support personnel would post them to Twitter. Prior to the rollout of personal Web access, called the Crew Support LAN, astronauts had access to official e-mail, but weren't able to surf the Web, according to NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries. The crew now has access to the Internet via a ground computer when the space station is actively communicating with Earth using high-speed Ku-band communications. Humphries said that he could not discuss the speed of the connection due to security reasons.

Despite some "hiccups" that Humphries could not discuss the astronauts and ground crew had been working for about a month to get the service online. The space station crew is subject to the same computer usage policies as Earth-based employees. These rules prohibit visits to pornography, gambling and other sites. Humphries said that there are content filters on the network level that prohibit access to those and other sites.

At some points the space station can be viewed from Earth by the naked eye. It looks like a bright star moving quickly through the sky and typically can only be seen for a few minutes. NASA provides a Web site to track the station and can tell sky watchers exactly when and where it can be seen. A service on Twitter called Twisst creates custom alerts, based on a user's location, and alerts them when the space station will pass through the sky.

NASA astronauts weren't the only newcomers to Twitter this week. President Barack Obama and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates also joined.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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