Washington – London: He may have been all alone on the Red Planet at Christmas but NASA’s robotic Curiosity rover said he didn’t “feel lonely.”
At the beginning of the year, he wished everyone a “HappyNewYear from Mars!”
And though he had a small problem with his drill just before the holidays, he was quick to reassure his Twitter followers, “I’m all right – don’t nobody worry ‘bout me. I’m driving again. Troubleshooting the drill, but science never stopped!”
Curiosity hasn’t just been a scientific success for NASA, but also a marketing success.
On Twitter more than 3.6 million people follow the research robot, which landed on Mars in August 2012 and is looking for signs of whether microbes have ever flourished there and whether the planet could be suitable for human habitation.
On Instagram it has more than 100,000 followers and on Facebook more than 1.3 million.
“Who’s got six wheels, a laser and is now on the Red Planet? Me,” the rover says in Facebook’s “About” section.
The 900-kilogram robot, which is the size of a small car, send out regular fun tweets and always in the first person.
The social media team behind it, based in NASA’s Jet Propulsion laboratory in Pasadena, California, has already won prizes for its work.
“Curiosity Rover is a great example of how NASA uses popular media to bring deep space exploration closer to home,” says Josh Greenberg, director of the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University in the Canadian capital of Ottawa.
In the past three years the robot has quadrupled the number of its fans on Twitter.
That reflects Twitter’s general growth, says Greenberg, but also how NASA’s social media team “has used its Twitter and Facebook presence to humanise what is otherwise a complex, vital science programme through use of wit, charm and intertextual references to popular culture.”
For NASA that’s important for several reasons. The space agency’s founding mission is not to research but also to explain that research to people and educate them.
A popular Twitter profile can help enthuse people about space travel and help justify tax dollars spent on it, says Greenberg.
It’s also good for NASA’s rather damaged reputation.
Curiosity has been celebrated as a showcase but it isn’t the first research robot to tweet in the first person and he certainly has a lot of company these days.
NASA’s Juno space probe, currently on its way to Jupiter, has already gained 500,000 fans on Twitter.
The Europan Space Agency has also got involved in the action.
Its Rosetta space probe and its lander module Philae, which began shadowing the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014 told hundreds of thousands of fans about their adventures on Twitter.
In September the Rosetta sent a goodbye message as she prepared for a crash landing on the comet.
“Since I’m going to get even busier later, I don’t want to miss the chance to say ‘so long and thanks for all the tweets’ … THANKKYOU Earth for letting me share this great adventure with you!”