How to discuss Ukraine on the ISS: NASA releases a manual for astronauts

Vox has received an almost completely unedited copy of the NASA manual for astronauts on social media behavior. The recommendations apply not only to Twitter, but also to Facebook, Reddit, LinkedIn, Twitch, Instagram and even Tiktok.

A selfie of astronaut Mike Massimino. Photo: Vox

The publication analyzed 80 slides of a document offering astronauts a look at the agency’s policy on the Internet, which has more than ten full-time SMM managers and manages 700 accounts on various social networks. The manual contains some interesting instructions about publications on Twitter, as well as how to participate in discussions on Ukraine.

Rules of conduct on the Internet on space

NASA has its own rules for using social networks in space. The current code of conduct for the crew of the International Space Station (ISS) prohibits astronauts from creating publications for personal or financial gain or disclosure of state secrets. In another section of the guidelines, the manual reminds astronauts that “social networks are voluntary, but should be considered secondary when mission safety and crew cohesion come to the fore”.

According to ESA Communications Officer Marco Trovatello, the social media strategists of the European Space Agency (ESA) communicate with astronauts on a daily basis. They give tips on vertical framing, using hashtags, creating effective captions, and choosing topics that look like “cool or funny”.

One of the slides of the manual for astronauts

During the first private mission to the ISS, Axiom Mission 1, NASA required the approval of publications on social networks, including images and videos. Another slide shows that in March 2022, NASA introduced a new process for reviewing images and social networks created during private astronaut missions.

NASA employees are advised not to use TikTok because of a US law prohibiting the space agency from cooperating with Chinese-owned companies. Although this does not stop Samantha Cristoforetti.

There is also one interesting detail in the manual: it advises astronauts to “stop working if their lives are in danger”. Good advice for all of us!

Politics in orbit

In addition to personal safety, the manual also recommends political prudence – an important detail, given the current tensions between the main players on the ISS — the United States and Russia. In February of this year, after Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine, recommendations appeared on the publication of this topic on social networks by astronauts in orbit. Publication rules tightened when the last head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, publicly stated that Russia refuses to cooperate with NASA so that the ISS without the Russian module “descends from orbit and falls to Earth”. 

ESA representative Trovatello noted that although the agency does not prohibit astronauts from speaking on any topic, all communications on Ukraine are handled by the agency’s director general in order to maintain the appearance of impartiality in space. The astronauts were advised not to bring up the topic of politics with the Russians, but to focus on discussing science, technology and activities in space.

Space tourists on the ISS as part of the Axiom 1 private mission also probably got acquainted with these instructions, in particular, how to answer the question about the war between Russia and Ukraine, because there are Russian cosmonauts on board the space station. 

Although for most of us here on Earth, social media remains just another way to spend time on the Internet, they are considered a form of public services for NASA crew members who popularize space and science for people.

Earlier we reported on how astronauts have fun in orbit.

According to Vox

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