NASA may only consume 0.5 percent of the federal budget, but it generates practically all of Uncle Sam's viral marketing buzz. Never was that more apparent than on Monday morning following the successful Mars landing of Curiosity, the biggest and most advanced spacecraft ever dispatched to another planet. In an explosion of tweets, Tumbls, status updates, and blog posts, the Internet showed its love of NASA in a way other parts of the government could only dream of. So what's NASA's secret?
The personalities Obviously NASA gets to go to space, so that kind of puts them at an advantage to, say, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but that's not its only strong suit! Those geeky, industrious, short-sleeve shirt-wearing scientists are a huge factor. And who could anticipate the surprise role of Bobak Ferdowsi (nee "Mohawk Guy"), NASA's activity lead who gets a new hairdo for each mission? As millions tuned into the live stream and saw his wild do, Ferdowsi became an instant symbol of rebellious nerd cool, a vibe that turned into a meme as The Atlantic's Megan Garber pointed out this morning:
But while, Ferdowsi deserves style points for his do, his colleagues deserve props for their unadulterated enthusiasm following those two sacred words "touchdown confirmed." Nothing greases the wheels of viral momentum than a little self congratulatory fist-pumping, high-fiving and bro-slaps to get the ball rolling. The video ricochetted across the Internet hundreds of thousands of times over:
The viral web strategy So you've got the best cast and crew you could ask for, but you still need a top notch delivery system. This is where NASA really excelled. With scarcely few problems, the NASA live stream provided a window for the entire world to see its success. That's easier said than done, as Gigaom's Derrick Harris reports. NASA battle-tested its live stream with an application-testing specialist called SOASTA which ensured that the stream would continue despite demand spikes and server fails. "SOASTA tests the traffic load applications can handle by generating cloud-computing-based resources that mimic the traffic generated by potentially millions of simultaneous real-world users," Harris writes. As a result of a lot of tweaking, they were able to ensure that even a single implementation of its application stack could handle 25 Gigabits per second of web traffic. That meant that you could watch it from the comforts of your own home or in the middle of Times Square without any problems:
In addition to the live feed, NASA's own social media team was killing it last night, tweeting out fun facts, observations and photos of the red planet captured by Curiosity. Kudos to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's @NASAJPL, @MarsCuriosity and social media editor Veronica McGregor (@VeronicaMcG). Here's the team bringing their A-game:
The mission Obviously, other arms of government draw viral attention for incidents now and again (think the U.S. soliders spoofing Lady Gaga), but that's a routine-breaking stunt. Last night, NASA was just doing its job. And for an arm of government, doing your job is either thankless (when was the last time anyone celebrated the Congressional Budget Office's timely scoring of a House budget bill?) or worse (TSA agents groping you at the airport). But the nature of NASA's mission, exploring the unknown, has a distinctly unifying quality to it. Sure, NASA may be subject to partisan budget battles, but following last night's landing, liberals and conservatives were one as both the Center for American Progress and the Heritage Foundation passed along the good news. The fact of the matter is, in NASA, the feds have their one true well-oiled viral hit factory, and last night, they didn't let us down.