The Curiosity Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) captured the rover's descent to the surface of the Red Planet, as it survived a potentially perilous landing dubbed the 'seven minutes of terror,' capping a decade of work by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (more commonly known as JPL) in California.
The world was watching as Curiosity, NASA's latest contribution to the Martian landscape, landed at 10:32 p.m. PDT on Aug. 5 near the foot of a three-mile tall mountain inside Gale Crater, which is 96 miles in diameter.
First-person updates on NASA's official @MarsCuriosity Twitter account include the historic touchdown tweet — "I'm safely on the surface of Mars. GALE CRATER I AM IN YOU!!! #MSL” — which has been retweeted to date more than 71,000 times.
Speaking in the "first person," Curiosity will be exploring Mars for the next two years and transmitting high-resolution color images, which "she" will continue sharing with fans and fascinated humans on Twitter (and Facebook, of course) via a trio of NASA social media specialists headed by Veronica McGregor.
One of NASA’s social media team, Courtney O'Connor, commented, "Obscure pop culture references, song lyrics and some of the corniest jokes imaginable are just a few ways that we've transformed Curiosity from an inanimate piece of metal into a lovable rover with a life of her own."
The corny references include such groaners as "Good golly Miss MAHLI" today and August 4th's Carly Rae Jepsen nod with, "Call me, maybe?" Curiosity is certainly a chatty Red Rover, one whose "social voice" aims to dejargonize and pull back the curtain in an engaging, fun and informative manner.
Mashable called the two low-res photos captured from the Ustream live feed showing the shadow of the rover and its wheel "the first ever Twitpic from an alien planet" as hashtags #Curiosity, #NASA and #MSL (Mars Science Laboratory) buzzed and trended and followers swelled from 137,000 to over 475,000 during the landing and now topping 725,000 followers.
NASA debuted Curiosity on Twitter in 2008: "I'm WAY cool, nearly built, and I need a name," was her first tweet, launching a naming essay contest on for kids. Then 12-year-old Clara Ma's suggestion, "Curiosity," was duly chosen from more than 9,000 entries.
McGregor told TechNewsDaily her team worked as a "hivemind" to communicate on Curiosity’s behalf. "I try to put myself into the mindset of the rover, if that's possible, and tweet from that perspective. I also look to the scientists and engineers behind this project and add their hopes and fears into the personality."
A video of the weary NASA Team’s reaction to the successful landing also went viral:
An article titled, "NASA Is the Government's One True Viral Hit Factory" begins, “NASA may only consume 0.5 percent of the federal budget, but it generates practically all of Uncle Sam's viral marketing buzz.”
Their recipe for success, besides spectacularly successful space missions includes personalities like Bobak Ferdowsi (aka "Mohawk Guy"), the systems engineer at JPL who unveils a new do for every mission. His Curiosity-inspired intergalactic mohawk blew up Twitter, as noted by The Atlantic’s Megan Garber and others.
But the seamless success of the galactic live stream shows the dual acumen of NASA to deploy space missions and produce other-worldly entertainment. It was QA-tested via SOASTA, “the granddaddy of cloud testing,” and Derrick Harris reports, so "the traffic load applications can handle by generating cloud-computing-based resources that mimic the traffic generated by potentially millions of simultaneous real-world users."
After much testing and tweaking, NASA ensured one single implementation of its application stack could handle 25 Gigabits per second of web traffic. The hard work meant mere Earthlings could watch the spectacle privately in their homes, or gather together to celebrate in public places like New York’s Times Square, where hundreds watched and erupted into wild applause of “NASA! NASA!” as a safe landing was confirmed.
“I wanted to see the landing in an intensely social atmosphere,” said Max Juren, 31, from Austin, Texas. “I would rather see billions of dollars spent on exploration than a single cent on war.”
Being hailed as “the mission of the decade” with the added expectation of re-energizing the U.S. space program and funding, Curiosity carries a potent and bittersweet message for earthlings who often struggle to get a campaign of any kind successfully launched, let alone universally lauded.
As The Atlantic's Garber noted, “The nature of NASA's mission, exploring the unknown, has a distinctly unifying quality to it. Sure, NASA may be subject to partisan budget battles, but following last night's landing, liberals and conservatives were one as both the Center for American Progress and the Heritage Foundation passed along the good news."
Politics aside, the NASA Team keeps tweeting facts, photos and information from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's @NASAJPL, @MarsCuriosity and McGregor’s @VeronicaMcG accounts, but it's not just a case of killing it on Twitter (Curiosity killed the tag?) just for the sake of social marketing. As McGregor put it, "This is a mission of discovery, and we're going to share it every step of the way."
Below, relive Curiosity's thrilling descent with this video on YouTube — yet another social touchpoint for Curiosity to connect with her fans on Earth: