If you’ve ever moved to somewhere far away, you can maybe imagine how crucial social media might be to astronauts orbiting planet Earth. As Jennifer Levasseur, curator at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, points out, it’s this sharing of human experience that allows the space-bound to participate in society, which is at the core of, you know, living.
She’s asked them about it.
“Many of them find it, I think, an important exercise for them as they spend months in space,” Levasseur tells Inverse’s Steve Ward on this Tuesday’s installment of I Need My Space. “They’re 250 miles above the earth. They can’t physically contact anybody. But they can participate in society and our culture still by being on social media.”
Levasseur says that the phenomenon actually compelled her to look into the process by which astronauts take and publish selfies during their missions. She discovered that they don’t go straight from (let’s say) some crew member’s Samsung Galaxy S9, onboard the International Space Station, directly to Twitter. All their Tweets, and presumably Instagram posts and Facebook status updates, are first transmitted back to NASA, who then pushes them out to social.
“I think many of them have had a higher level of activity, in part, because they find value in communicating about their experiences,” as Levasseur put it on Episode 17 of the podcast. “So, you see things, like photographs, all the time on Twitter that astronauts have taken that really express a point of view that they have that we would just really have a hard time understanding or appreciating otherwise.”
Some aspects of this are new to life in space — but astronauts have been pretty adept at snapping candid-yet-curated, Instagram-worthy pics since the glory days of the Apollo program.
Begining in 1962, NASA started using Swedish Hasselblad camera’s on manned missions, and the first motor-driven version, the Hasselblad 500 EL, was created at NASA’s request. As used by Apollo 11 Mission commander Neil Armstrong, and pilot Buzz Aldrin (and Michael Collins, I guess), the 500ELs were responsible for some of the absolute best, slightly washed-out, 1:1 square ratio photographs ever taken off-world.
Camera equipment from Apollo 11, including this Hasselblad, are now on display at the National Air and Space Museum where Dr. Levasseur works.
Like almost everything that goes up into space, these cameras came back to Earth as something more valuable — culturally transmogrified by reentry into a celebrated piece of space memorabilia.
If you want to hear more about these rarified space artifacts and photographs, there’s a little over half-an-hour’s worth of conversation with Jennifer Levasseur waiting for you on Episode 17 of I Need My Space.