June 4, 2008 — -- 4:46 p.m., May 25: Atmospheric entry has started. time to get REALLY nervous. Now I'm in the "seven minutes of terror."
4:50 p.m.: Parachute is open!!!!! come on rocketssssss!!!!!
4:54 p.m.: I've landed!!!!!!!!!!!!!
4:55 p.m. Cheers! Tears!! I'm here!
When the Phoenix Lander, NASA's spacecraft that is looking for signs of life -- or at least ice -- on Mars, landed two weeks ago it, had an audience of thousands, but it was all online, not on cable or the nightly TV newscast.
Web-savvy space fans have tuned into the spacecraft's Twitter page, where Phoenix has been "tweeting" back daily messages from space. The page has quickly become one of Twitter's most popular feeds, and turned Phoenix into a rising star.
Of course, this Phoenix is not a cutesy, talking robot turned spacecraft. Instead, the Lander's adventures appear online at Twitter.com, the social networking and micro-blogging site. The part of Phoenix is played by human: Veronica McGregor, the media director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
"The feedback has been tremendous," McGregor told me from California, where JPL is based. "Every day, we get hundreds and hundreds of replies. I put out a question one night. Should I reply to everybody or individuals [when answering questions]. Within minutes, I had 95 responses and every single person said, 'No, send them to all of us.'"
Twitter.com allows users to send out 140-character messages to their Twitter feed via e-mail, instant messaging or text-messaging. Twitter operates somewhat like a personal RSS feed; people who subscribe to your feed will receive all the messages you send out.
That means that the nearly 17,000 subscribers Phoenix's feed has netted since it began nearly a month ago have been receiving wide-eyed, enthusiastic messages like this one.
June 1: Looking forward to an exciting day on Mars; My first dig in the dirt! Team calls this a "dig and dump" test of my robotic arm and scoop.
McGregor, a former space reporter for CNN, writes as Phoenix about a dozen times a day, before and after work. She normally doesn't have time to post to Twitter during her regular workday.