Feb. 22, 2013 at 12:42 PM ET
NASA followed one of the classic rules for Internet videos during its first space-to-Earth Google Hangout on Friday: If you want to bring in the viewers, don't forget the cats.
Astronaut Tom Marshburn's demonstration of how an astronaut in the International Space Station's zero-gravity environment can imitate a falling kitty was one of the highlights of the hourlong video chat, which addressed more than 30 questions sent in via YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and real-time hookups with kids across the country.
One of the questions, phrased in the form of a video, came from the host of the "Smarter Every Day" webcast series, a rocket engineer known as Destin. (He keeps mum about his last name to protect his kids, who appear in the webcasts.) Destin ran his own mini-video showing how a falling cat rights itself in the air to land on its feet, and asked if the astronauts could match that feat in zero-G.
"We don't have any cats onboard," said space station commander Kevin Ford, "but we have a medical doctor who maybe can try to demonstrate the next best thing to a cat."
Marshburn, who's a physician as well as an astronaut, then proceeded to float in front of the camera and twist his body to change position — not quite as adroitly as the cats, but not bad for a human.
"I hope you believe that what you saw happened with the cat isn't a mystery, and that it can happen in space, too," Ford concluded. You can watch the demonstration around the 33-minute mark in the Hangout video.
Other astronauts participating in the chat included Canada's Chris Hadfield aboard the station, and NASA's Ron Garan and Nicole Stott on the ground. They took questions passed along from social media by NASA moderator John Yembrick; from live-video hookups with classrooms at University High School in Orlando, Fla., and Mescalero Apache School in New Mexico; and from a youngster named Fred whose video link was facilitated by the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
Here are a few more nuggets from the video:
For more outer-space video goodness, tune in the Weekly Space Hangout at 3 p.m. ET Friday. Yours truly will be on the screen along with other scribes to review the week's space news, including the meteor blast that hit Russia a week ago.
Alan Boyle is NBCNews.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. To keep up with Cosmic Log as well as NBCNews.com's other stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered to your email in-box every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.