-- When the Curiosity rover landed on Mars, a star — of sorts — was born in the Twitterverse.
@MarsCuriosity saw its followers on Twitter skyrocket from 150,000 at 4 p.m. Saturday to nearly 700,000 by Monday afternoon. The successful landing marked the beginning of a two-year mission designed to give NASA a closer look at the red planet.
As the shuttle descended onto Mars' surface early Monday, the humorous, first-person updates on the Curiosity rover's Twitter account began: "I'm safely on the surface of Mars. GALE CRATER I AM IN YOU!!! #MSL," said a 1:32 a.m tweet.
A trio of NASA social-media specialists are behind the account.
Curiosity isn't the first spacecraft with a voice on the Internet. Social-media manager Veronica McGregor created an account for the Phoenix Mars Lander in May 2008, aiming to foster a more engaging dialogue between the space agency and the public. She received an immediate deluge of responses.
Five months later, Curiosity sent out its first tweet: "I'm way cool, nearly built, and I need a name."
Over the next several years, Curiosity tweeted about its gradual development. "I'm 3.5 ft taller this week! Now I have a neck & head (aka mast)," said a tweet from July 23, 2010. It also frequently responded to tweets from other Twitter users.
"There were more interactions and people sending questions," McGregor said.
Two more specialists, Courtney O'Connor and Stephanie Smith, joined NASA's social-media team in August 2009 and June 2010, respectively, with a goal to translate the agency's jargon into a witty, palatable form. Here's an example from Curiosity, sent at 5:46 a.m. Monday: "FYI, I aim to send bigger, color pictures from Mars later this week once I've got my head up & Mastcam active #MSL."
"The difference between 'I will deploy my remote sensing mask' and 'I'll get my head up' is all the difference in the world," Smith said.
But the team aims to keep the account just as credible as it is humorous, she added.
"We want to be engaging and we want to be timely, but above all, we have to be accurate," Smith said. "Levity can't get in the way of telling the real story."
As the rover sets out on a journey across the expansive Mars plains, the team will continue providing photos and live updates directly from outer space. You can also find Curiosity on Facebook and Ustream.
"This is a mission of discovery, and we're going to share it every step of the way," McGregor said.