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How Scott Kelly became a social media superstar — in space

In July 2015, astronaut Scott Kelly took a selfie from the International Space Station with the Earth. Scott Kelly/NASA via AP/ file

What is it like to live in space for a year? Thanks to astronaut Scott Kelly, we outside of NASA have a better idea.

For nearly a year, Commander Kelly orbited Earth, breaking the US record for cumulative — 520 — and consecutive — 340 — days in space.

Before Kelly left, he appeared at the 2015 State of the Union address, where President Obama personally asked him to “make sure to Instagram” his trip.

To say he’s delivered is a bit of an understatement: Kelly posted about 750 images while in space for 340 days. He spearheaded the hashtags #YearInSpace and #EarthArt, and helped promote NASA’s campaign #WhySpaceMatters. He sent a #GoodnightFromSpace photo nearly every night, showed us the flowers he grew aboard the International Space Station, commented on weather patterns, posted what our cities look like from space, and sent video of himself in a gorilla suit chasing a fellow astronaut.

In short, he was more active on social media than many people who actually reside on Earth.


Turns out, NASA prepared him for all this social connection.

“Before astronauts launch to the station, there is social media training where an overview of all the platforms available and best practices are discussed,” said John Yembrick, NASA’s social media manager. “Astronauts on the space station are the single best ambassadors for space exploration. They can share the majesty of seeing Earth from space and communicate the importance of living off the planet.”

Kelly hasn’t just been Instagraming. He’s also posted to Facebook and Twitter, and he hosted NASA’s first in-space Tumblr Answertime, Reddit AMA (“Ask Me Anything” discussion), Facebook Q&A, and Tweetchat, one of which President Obama took part in unexpectedly.

Kelly’s photos have certainly benefited his millions of social media followers, but Kelly said on Reddit that he gained a lot from the exchanges, too.


“I certainly miss my loved ones, but I never feel lonely,” he wrote. “And connecting to people back on Earth on social media like this helps too!”

Kelly’s social media endeavors over the last year may have been interesting because the photos are simply something you see nowhere else, but his personality and engagement are what kept most people coming back.

“When Scott’s posting about space station science or an image of a beautiful sunrise from space station, you often don’t get a sense of who he is,” said Yembrick. “Scott is not only a dedicated professional, he’s someone who is thoughtful and has a dry wit.”

Yembrick pointed to Kelly’s tweets on the Super Bowl, for instance, that were funny while also showing the world what it looks like from above:

It doesn’t look like Kelly’s social media presence will completely diminish now that he’s back on Earth.

He’s already posted a photo of his first salad, first sunset back on the planet, and a phone call from Obama:

“Astronauts on the space station have a unique perspective of our home planet,” said Yembrick. “While we on Earth talk about life up there, they can communicate what it is like to look back on life down here. At the end of the day, space exploration is all about the human experience.”

More photos from Kelly’s trip to space:

Heather Ciras is features producer for bostonglobe.com. Follow her on Twitter @heatherciras.