In one of the most famous phrases ever spoken, Astronaut Neil Armstrong’s first words from the surface of the moon captured the pioneering spirit of America’s ambitions beyond Earth: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” ( hear the original transmission here). But ever since that historic evening in July 1969, public interest in the U.S. space program has steadily declined.
So when NASA sent their Mars Science Laboratory rover (aptly named Curiosity by a teen girl) on its mission to the Red Planet back in November 2011, they knew they needed to garner support and inject some excitement back into the program. Naturally they turned to social media.
As Curiosity successfully land ed on Mars around 1:30 a.m. on August 6, 2012, the event created so much buzz that millions watched NASA’s official streaming video. Meanwhile, the @MarsCuriosity Twitter presence has been second to none. The account delights more than 890,000 followers daily with funny and informative tweets. It’s also a stellar example of how old-school businesses can make themselves relevant again by engaging their audience where they already exist.
The voice of Curiosity is the combined effort of three women, led by NASA’s social media manager Veronica McGregor, who says that they work as a “hivemind” to communicate on behalf of the rover. All three refer to Curiosity as “she.” The social media team first brought Curiosity to Twitter on Nov. 19, 2008 and five months later, she sent out her first tweet: “I’m way cool, nearly built, and I need a name.”
Tweeting in the “voice” of a robot gives personality and a sense of connection that’s made all of NASA’s recent missions engaging to a new generation of space enthusiasts. Listen to NASA teammates Courtney O’Connor & Stephanie Smith talk about NASA’s social media reach in the interview below:
Obscure pop culture references, song lyrics and some of the corniest jokes imaginable are just a few ways that NASA transformed Curiosity from an inanimate piece of metal into a lovable rover with a life of her own. Fun tweets like the ones above make NASA’s message extremely compelling and inherently viral. The more people read their Tweets, the more awareness spreads about the mission, which could swing voters to support cand idates who will back NASA. After all, it only receives half a penny on a tax dollar.