Back on earth, NASA's Curiosity rover, which is exploring Mars from August 2012 to July 2014, is getting social.
The rover has its own Foursquare badge, Twitter handle, Facebook page, and even an online video that aired in Times Square on New Year's Eve. All elements are part of another NASA mission: to inspire curiosity in science.
The Foursquare badge, the Curiosity Explorer badge, is NASA's second to date.
Foursquare users earn the badge by first liking NASA and then checking in at a NASA visitor center or any other Foursquare venue categorized as a science museum or planetarium.
Since it launched on December 27, NASA has gained over 20,000 Foursquare likes for a total of 451,000. (Mars Curiosity itself has 33,000 likes.)
NASA's prior Explorer badge, which encouraged users to explore NASA-related locations, came out in 2010. NASA uses its Foursquare page to provide tips and information about the U.S. space program.
In October, Curiosity actually checked in to Mars' Gale Crater on Foursquare. NASA says this marks the first check-in on another planet. As a result, Curiosity is the mayor of Gale Crater.
According to the description on Foursquare, Gale Crater spans 96 miles in diameter and sits a few degrees south of the Martian equator.
Curiosity is also the mayor of Mars' Rocknest. Curiosity will continue to check in on Mars and post photos and tips on Foursquare as its mission continues.
Curiosity's main destination is Mount Sharp, but it is also investigating flatter ground to seek clues in rocks and soil about whether Mars was ever capable of supporting microbial life, NASA says.
As of Friday, Curiosity is in Yellowknife Bay, within Gale Crater.
Jason Townsend, NASA's deputy social media manager, says NASA created the badge because a lot of armchair astronomers were following along at home in the middle of the night when Curiosity landed on Mars.
"It really has this worldwide following. The landing was carried live in Times Square on landing night [in August] and there were literally thousands of people," Townsend says.
The video in Times Square aired thanks to a partnership with Toshiba. NASA also aired a New Year's greeting there - right beneath the infamous ball. The footage in Times Square is specifically for the Curiosity rover and will remain up "as long as we're able to," Townsend says.
The Times Square New Year's video greeting was also posted on YouTube by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It has 90,000 views.
"We're always looking for new ways to connect to the public to get inspired about what's going on and to follow along and really share," Townsend says.
Curiosity also has its own Twitter handle - @MarsCuriosity - with 1.3 million followers. It has pushed the Curiosity Explorer badge, as well as images from Mars. It is posting similar content on Facebook, where it has 470,000 fans.
According to Townsend, NASA is striving for Curiosity to have a persona, which sets the tone on social channels.
"By having it talk in the first person, we are able to say things in a way that resonates with people and gets more attention than saying them from the third person," Townsend says.
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Lisa Lacy is senior staff writer at ClickZ. In addition to ClickZ, her work has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Luxury Spot, LearnVest, MarthaStewart.com, GoodHousekeeping.com, amNewYork, and The Wall Street Journal. She's a graduate of Columbia's School of Journalism.
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