Will wonders never cease? NASA’s Curiosity landing was a social-media bonanza. The space agency had hits on several major social networks.
NASA has surprised two groups of people in getting the Curiosity rover safely on Martian soil. The first set were the skeptics who said the agency couldn't pull it off, and the second are skeptics of government-run social-media campaigns.
In both efforts, NASA has gone all in, with tactics and strategies that a lot, and maybe most, people doubted would succeed.
And yet, as Monday’s early morning landing of an SUV-sized robot proved, NASA at its best needs no help publicizing itself. It has even earned praise from veteran journalist Jeffrey Jarvis and has been viewed as a contrast to NBC’s contentious Olympics online strategy.
New dispatches from Mars are trickling out as the rover sits still while NASA completes status checks of the robot. Among them is spectacular video of the last two-and-half-minutes of the landing.
Will Curiosity determine if Mars ever supported life, or help map out a manned mission to Mars? It's too soon to say, but the answer will most likely debut on NASA social media. Here's how the Curiosity mission continues to play out online.
Like previous rover missions, NASA shared news of the mission live through multiple Twitter accounts, the most notable being @NASA, @NASAJPL (NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory), and @MarsCuriosity. @MarsCuriosity followed NASA’s four-year-old cheeky practice of tweeting in the first person as a rover, a tactic that amassed 400,000 followers in the 48 hours leading up to Curiosity's landing.
Celebrity astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson even got in the act, tweeting questions to Curiosity, to which the rover quipped back equally witty responses. It was this kind of playful social promotion that won the ordinarily very buttoned-down space agency a Shorty Award in 2009 for its Twitter campaign promoting the previous Phoenix lander mission to Mars.
If you can only follow one of NASA’s social media profiles, ReadWriteWeb recommends @MarsCuriosity.
NASA, of course, has a Facebook page, liked more than 1 million times, and so does Curiosity. Information posted there is also posted on Google+ as well as on the Twitter accounts. Jason Townsend, NASA’s deputy social media manager, said NASA will experiment with Google+ hangouts, too.
The space agency uses Flickr primarily to tweet official photos of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory crew and esteemed guests like Bill Nye "the Science Guy" or White House Science and Technology Advisor John Holdren.
The lab's YouTube channel, JPLNews, has over 300 videos - tutorials, simulations, interviews and mission footage, including "Curiosity's Descent." NASA's primary YouTube channel, NASA TV, houses another 2,000 or so videos.
ReadWriteWeb recommends NASA’s HDTV Ustream channel, as it offers the best video quality.
“Eyes in the Sky” was the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s interactive computer simulation that followed Curiosity’s descent in real time. That sim also lets you check out other planets. And the lab also has several other interactive features.
Even more interactive than “Eyes” is NASA’s free “Mars Rover Landing” game, on Microsoft’s Xbox 360 Kinect.