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Mars Exploration is a scientific research mission undertaken by various national space exploration programs to learn more about the environment and possible life on planet Mars, as well as to prepare for any possible human mission in the future. The ongoing efforts led by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Adminstration has been chronicled online since the inception of the Mars Exploration Rover program on July 28th, 2000.
Pre-Rover Mission: Pathfinder
The Mars Pathfinder was an exploration probe launched on December 4th, 1996. On July 4th, 1997, the probe landed on the planet’s Chryse Planitia region to conduct experiments on the surface. MSNBC published an article titled “Internet Users Follow Mars Missions”, which reported that NASA was struggling to cope with Internet traffic after the Pathfinder reached the surface of Mars on July 4th. The NASA Pathfinder website received several awards, including 1998 Best of the Net, Los Angeles Times 1997 Pick, Cool Site of the Day and Family Site of the Day. On July 14th, the Los Angeles Times published an article titled “Millions Visit Mars -- on the Internet”, which reported that the network of mirror sites hosting information about the probe average about 40 to 45 million hits a day.
Spirit and Opportunity
The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Adminstration’s (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced the Mars Exploration Rover mission on July 28th, 2000 after losing two Mars probes in 1999. On June 8th, 2003, the two rovers were given the names Spirit and Opportunity by 9-year-old Sofi Collis in an essay contest.Spirit was launched two days later on the 10th from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Just short of a month later, on July 7th, Opportunity went on its way. The rovers did not land until January 2004
The rovers made significant discoveries while on Mars; within the first month of its landing, Opportunity found mineral spheres dubbed “blueberries” that alluded to water possibly existing on the planet. In May 2007, Spirit uncovered a patch of soil composed of 90% silica, which scientists concluded was concentrated by a water source. Though the two rovers only had a 90 Sol (Martian Days, 92.5 Earth days) mission, Opportunity continues its research as of August 2012. Spirit was active until March 20th, 2010, after it had been stuck on flat ground for 10 months.
A third rover, Curiosity, was launched on November 26, 2011, landing on the planet on August 6th, 2012. Its name was chosen on May 27th, 2009 by sixth grader Clara Ma who won a Twitter-launched NASA essay contest. During its landing, the rover live-tweeted the event from its official Twitter account.
I’m safely on the surface of Mars. GALE CRATER I AM IN YOU!!!— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) August 6, 2012
The Mars Science Laboratory maintains an active mission page, highlighting news from Curiosity and a vast image gallery with thousands of photos from the rovers. There is also an Image of the Day feature, highlighting one of those photos with a blurb about its context.. NASA created a Facebook page for the Mars Exploration Rovers in January 2008, transitioning it from a personal profile to a fan page on May 8th, 2009. As of August 2012, this page has 24,103 likes. Curiosity’s Facebook fan page was created on July 6th, 2010, and has 260,000 likes as of August 2012. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory joined YouTube on January 17th, 2007 and began posting videos from its rovers that day. However, the channel only receives 4705 views a day. They also maintain a Ustream account for streaming events.
On Twitter, NASA’s main account has nearly 2.7 million followers, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory has more than 335,000 followers, Spirit and Opportunity have 161,000 followers and Curiosity has nearly 821,000 followers.
Spirit & Opportunity (2004)
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After Curiosity‘s landing on Monday, August 6th, 2012, the hashtags #MSL (short for Mars Science Laboratory), #Mars and #Curiosity each began to trend, with #MSL trending on Google+. The offical Oreo Twitter account tweeted a photo of an open Oreo cookie with red cream with rover tracks going across it as part of their Daily Twist news commentary series to commemorate the event. Additionally, the rover was given a part in that day’s Google Doodle, which was mainly focused on the 2012 Olympics.
NASA live streamed the landing, which involved a sequence never attempted previously, with a sky crane and an automated program which would cause the rover to land itself. Streaming was covered by Mediaite, Mashable, Wired and the Huffington Post. While British newspaper the Telegraph did not host the live stream, they provided a play by play of the landing as it was happening.
Outside of official NASA feeds, other feeds and watch parties for the Curiosity landing were provided by PBS Newshour, nonprofit organization Explore Mars, the YouTube channel Universe Today and San Francisco Museum the Exploratorium. On Tumblr, viewers and fans began posting images of Curiosity’s landing as well as images the rover has taken on Mars with the hashtags #curiosity and #mars.
Curiosity: Notable Developments
Bobak Ferdowski, a NASA engineer and flight director of the Curiosity mission, was given the nickname NASA Mohawk Guy during the live coverage of the rover’s landing. His mohawk haircut with stars shaved into the side of his head drew the attention of Twitter, Reddit and Tumblr users, who began sharing his photo and making fan art and image macros featuring the engineer. Ferdowski’s unexpected popularity was reported by Cnet, the Daily Dot, the Huffington Post, the Atlantic, Buzzfeed and Jezebel.
Parody Twitter Accounts
Within 72 hours of the rover’s landing, Curiosity inspired four parody Twitter accounts. While three of them, @MarsRoverSwag, @MarsCuroisity and @SarcasticRover focused on a sardonic approach to _Curiosity_’s normal tweets, @BiCuriousRover‘s humor focuses on gay culture. These accounts were featured on the Huffington Post, George Takei’s Facebook, the New Zealand Listener, WebProNews and the Daily Dot.
HOLY. FUCKING. SHIT. I AM ON MARS.— Curoisity Rover (
MarsCuroisity) <a href="https://twitter.com/MarsCuroisity/status/232366626543116289" data-datetime="2012-08-06T06:44:55+00:00">August 6, 2012</a></blockquote> <script src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><br> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet tw-align-center"><p>Just analyzed a rock… it was hard. Can I come home now?</p>— SarcasticRover (SarcasticRover) August 6, 2012
Since its landing in August, the Curiosity rover has captured and transmitted an extensive collection of raw images of the planet’s surface using its high-resolution MastCams, two navigation cameras, the ChemCam laser instrument and the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI). The images, which largely comprises of landscape photographs and close-up shots of the soil’s texture, have been regularly featured in the mainstream news circuit as well on as space news blogs like Wired and the Huffington Post among many others.
Finding on Martian Radiation Level
On November 16th, NASA revealed the Rover’s new finding that the radiation levels on Mars may be tolerable or non-lethal for humans residing on the planet. Although the hypothetical conjecture discounted the astronaut’s prolonged exposure to radiations during the course of the round trip that can take eight to nine months each way, the news was largely met by a high sense of optimism in the space news blogosphere with headlines proclaiming that “humans could survive Mars radiation,” as well as numerous discussion threads on Reddit’s /r/news, /r/space, /r/curiosityrover and /r/science subreddit forums.
Announcement of a Mysterious Discovery
During an interview with NPR on November 20th, NASA’s Curiosity chief scientist John Grotzinger revealed that the U.S. space agency is planning to announce a “major discovery” in early December that could go in the history books, albeit without disclosing any specific details as to the nature of its finding. According to the NPR report, the discovery was made by the rover’s Sample Analysis at Mars instrument, which serves as its onboard chemistry lab that is capable of identifying organic compounds. Grotzinger’s remark soon led to the rise of speculations in the scientific community that the probe may have discovered scientific evidence of organic life on Mars. That same day, Wired published an article titled “Curiosity Rover’s Secret Historic Breakthrough? Speculation Centers on Organic Molecules.”
Life on Ancient Mars
On March 12th, 2013, NASA scientists announced that Mars was capable of supporting microbial life in the distant past. According to Curiosity rover’s chemical analysis of a rock it had sampled in February, the rock contains abundant clay minerals with key life ingredients, including sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon.
Jet Propulsion Laborator – Girl with Dreams Names Mars Rovers ‘Spirit’ and ‘Opportunity’
The Huffington Post – Bobak Ferdowsi’s Mohawk Blows Up Twitter As NASA’s Curiosity Rover Lands On Mars