NASA engages the public through its innovative use of social media

Image of Pluto Planet by New Horizons Mission - Image by NASA

Pluto by New Horizons Mission – Image by NASA


Brittney MacDonald
The Other Press

New Westminster, B.C (CUP)—Out of all the government agencies, none have embraced the popularity of social media quite like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

NASA’s initial brush with social media fame happened in 2012, during the Mars Curiosity landing. Images of systems engineer Bobak Ferdowsi—henceforth known as “Mohawk Guy” due to his unusual hairstyle and excitement over the Curiosity rover’s first broadcasted images—went viral.

The media attention inspired NASA to engage more with Internet culture and social media, as they have since worked hard to build themselves up as a social media brand.

Recently, NASA celebrated yet another successful mission—this one consisting of a spacecraft doing a 20-hour long pass of Pluto. The mission, labelled New Horizons, was more than nine years in the making; its intent, to photograph Pluto at the tail-end of our solar system.

When the images finally did come, NASA didn’t bother releasing them to media and news outlets around the world. Instead, NASA released the pictures immediately to their Instagram saying, “Gorgeous Pluto! The dwarf planet has sent a love note back to Earth via our New Horizons spacecraft, which has travelled more than nine years and three-plus-billion miles…”

As if releasing the images of Pluto to Instagram wasn’t enough, the New Horizons team then proceeded to conduct an AMA (Ask Me Anything) over Reddit and Twitter.

There has been criticism, however: social media companies like Instagram are privately owned—in this case, by networking giant Facebook. As a government agency, it is against the law for NASA to display favouritism to any privately-owned company. Releasing the images to Instagram, rather than its competitors, means NASA is walking a very thin line. Their loophole is that content on social media is available to the public regardless of whether an individual has an account with the website or not.

I applaud NASA for the innovative new approach, and will definitely follow them across all our common platforms.

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NASA engages the public through its innovative use of social media