Adler Planetarium

The Social Force Behind Curiosity


On August 6, 2012 millions of people from around the world collectively held their breath as they watched the live feed from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s (JPL) mission control of Curiosity touching down on Mars. Did you watch? I did. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. Large crowds gathered in New York’s Times Square on the night of August 5 to see if Curiosity would make it through the Martian atmosphere. I watched events unfold at the Adler’s landing party with 1,000 of my closest friends. And even though I couldn’t physically see the rover, just listening to the chatter of the scientists and seeing their reactions made everything ten times more exciting.

Even though Curiosity was not the first rover to land on Mars, it felt like it was. The landing and the activity leading up to the landing was featured on almost every major social media platform including Twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube, and Ustream. Since Curiosity has landed on Mars it’s social media force has only gotten stronger. Through social media, Curiosity has inspired and piqued the public’s level of interest in planetary science and Mars exploration – and that is awesome. 

The social media team behind Curiosity (yes, there is a team and it’s 3 ladies) was strategic in their plan in that they engaged their audience from the very beginning. As the rover was built, tested, launched and landed, the public was with the mission through every step. Each step, including much of the rover’s construction, was streamed live to the NASA’s JPL Ustream channel, allowing online audiences to view the activities and ask questions through live chats. 

NASA does a wonderful job engaging the public through its multiple social media channels because it makes science more personable and approachable. Instead of watching a video of scientists talking about their discoveries, you can ask them your own questions through Google+ Hangouts, live Ustream, and Twitter chats. 

I had the privilege of attending a NASA Social media event at their Wallops Flight Facility in Chincoteague, VA. Called a NASA Social, the event was an informal meeting of people who use social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. Basically you’re getting the same access as someone from the news media. I saw a demo launch of Orbital Sciences Corporation's Antares rocket and was able to meet and interact with representatives from NASA and Orbital Sciences. It was an amazing experience and I was able to share it with the Adler audience. 

At the Adler, we’re inspired by the future of science engagement through social media and we try to create unique online experiences to share with our audience. But I’d like to hear from you about your experiences with science and social media. Do you follow the Curiosity rover on Twitter or Facebook? What keeps you on the edge of your seat? Post a comment below or tweet to us @adlerskywatch or message us on Facebook

Written by Melissa Schuler, web and social media manager at the Adler Planetarium.


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