NASA wins award for informative Twittering

Agency harnessed message technology for public outreach

The rambunctious Web 2.0 start-up community has awarded NASA for its use of a Twitter feed to inform the public about the Mars Phoenix Lander mission.

The newly created Shorty Award recognizes creative uses of Twitter, a free messaging service offered by a San Francisco start-up under the same name.

New York Internet services provider Sawhorse Media held the event, which was supported by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The ceremony, the first iteration of this awards ceremony, was held in New York City and hosted by CNN anchor Rick Sanchez.

A NASA Twitter account that tracked the progress of the Phoenix Lander won the Shorty Award for the science category, one of 26 categories. The winners were chosen by the number of votes each entrant received. More than 12,000 nominations were submitted.

NASA launched the Mars Phoenix Lander mission in August 2007 with the goal of setting an exploratory vehicle on the surface of Mars, in a location further north than previous unmanned explorations. The vehicle, which landed in May 2008, subsequently sent back 25,000 images and other scientific data.

To keep the curious informed, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) set up a Twitter feed, one of a number that NASA offers, that would deliver mission updates.

"We created the account…last May with the goal of providing the public with near real-time updates on the mission," said the feed's creator Veronica McGregor, manager of the JPL news office, in a statement. "The response was incredible. Very quickly it became a way not only to deliver news of the mission, but to interact with the public and respond to their questions about space exploration."

Twitter limits the length of messages to 140 characters or less, and can include hyperlinks to Web pages. The messages can be read on a Web site or sent to a cell phone.

The Phoenix Lander Twitter feed provided more than 600 updates during the vehicle's mission, which lasted 152 days. The feed continues to provide updates on some of the research. More than 41,000 individuals have subscribed to the feed.

"Temps this week hovering around -40C/-40F (the high) and -95C/-139F (the overnight low)," read a typical update, answering a question submitted by another Twitter user.

McGregor accepted the award. In the spirit of Twitter, all the winner's speeches were limited to 140 characters or fewer. "In the Martian arctic a lander built by human hands resides, a testament to the dream of exploration in all of us," she said.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.


  • Records management: Look beyond the NARA mandates

    Pandemic tests electronic records management

    Between the rush enable more virtual collaboration, stalled digitization of archived records and managing records that reside in datasets, records management executives are sorting through new challenges.

  • boy learning at home (Travelpixs/Shutterstock.com)

    Tucson’s community wireless bridges the digital divide

    The city built cell sites at government-owned facilities such as fire departments and libraries that were already connected to Tucson’s existing fiber backbone.

Stay Connected