A note to @MarsCuriosity's 1,270,220 followers on Twitter: NASA's intrepid rover is a she. At a science journalism conference today, the women behind her massively popular social media presence confirmed that "she" is the proper pronoun for referring to the Mars explorer.
Science journos in Raleigh, North Carolina, for this week's Science Online 2013 conference broke the news on Twitter while watching a panel on social media. The speakers included Veronica McGregor, Courtney O'Connor, and Stephanie Smith, three NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory social media managers who handle the Curiosity account. They talked about their choice to give @MarsCuriosity a first person voice—so instead of newsy third-person updates, followers get character-driven, pop culture savvy dispatches like this:
Rave on! Just took my 1st nighttime images of Mars, including one by UV/blacklight [pics+info] go.nasa.gov/WwMS23— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) January 24, 2013
Get... that... dirt off your boulder... See first use of my dust removal tool on Mars:twitpic.com/btdpwb— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) January 8, 2013
Crushing it! See how I can break rocks to expose interesting new science targets on Mars [video] go.nasa.gov/10EPQrP— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) January 18, 2013
But if Curiosity possesses selfhood, surely the rover must have a gender? Indeed she does—and it's female, the team behind her account confirmed. The revelation came as a pleasant surprise to the scientific Twitterverse:
I just heard from @marscuriosity that the rover prefers the female pronoun. Who knew?— Annalee Newitz (@Annaleen) January 31, 2013
Curiosity is a 'SHE'!!!neato #scio13— Carin Anne Bondar (@DrBondar) January 31, 2013
@annaleen I'd been going with "hir" and "ze" for the rover until now.— Maggie Koerth-Baker (@maggiekb1) January 31, 2013
As it turns out, NASA's fleet is no boy's club. After clearing up the matter of Curiosity's gender, O'Connor took the opportunity to let everyone know that all NASA ships of exploration and spacecraft should be referred to in the feminine.