I’m calling it- probably the most exciting news this year was that of the Rosetta mission, which after 10 years of traveling managed to get the European Space Agencies Philae lander onto the surface of a comet hurtling through space at 84000 mile an hour. It’s really hard for me to actually conceptualize that happening, that somewhere millions of miles away, after billions of miles of traveling, a tiny wee metal box a bunch of shirt-wearing humans made is lying slightly precariously on cliff on a rock that is about the same size as a LEGO Deathstar if it was made to scale with the minifigs (now THERE’S a statistic I can get behind!).
I think one of the coolest parts of the landing however was following it live, through the official livestreams and Twitter accounts. Agencies like ESA and NASA are really, really good at the social media stuff. The NASA Social Tweet-ups are just a great example of the Agency interacting with the public (as my buddy Scott can more than attest to), and the twitter account for the Curiosity Rover is both informative and fun, as it tweets out pictures and news in first person as it was sending the tweets directly from Mars itself. Similarly, the Twitter accounts for Philae and Rosetta are two other brilliantly run accounts that were updating live the events of November 12 in first person and even better, actually talking to each other.
It got me thinking though- Why stop there? People love characters, and the idea that these machines and robots have their own distinct personalities make them so much more fun to follow. Two of the best characters in Christopher Nolan’s recent Interstellar were the two robots, TARS and CASE, each with their own distinct personality and quirks- TARS, a wise cracking sarcastic A.I. and CASE a more quiet, subdued and professional character. Similarly some of the most original and beloved characters in Ian M Bank’s Culture Sci-Fi Series are the hyper-intelligent A.I. minds. I’d get such a kick out of these missions and various probes and satellites if they each had distinct personalities that you could play favourites with or see talking to each other- Motherships that are overly serious and reminding Landers to stay on point, childish rovers cracking jokes and “going off mission”. Maybe a suspiciously cold, logical humanity-killing HAL 9000 type who keeps tweeting it’s ever-growing plans for world domination. Of course it would all be planned out before hand, a team of ground controlled accounts giving each satellite or mission its own character and interacting a long a script. But hell, if we can get compelling storylines in wrestling, I don’t see why we couldn’t have fun with some space-faring twitter accounts.
I’m sure some purists would sniff that this idea, but I’m not proposing a reality show in space or dumbing down the ideas and science behind some of the most complicated endeavors humanity has ever attempted, I just think the best thing Space Agencies have done in recent years is to get behind, drum up support and attract worldwide attention on social media and the internet by connecting more personally with fans and enthusiasts in a big way. If our aim is to get more people interested and aware of science, let’s have some fun with it. NASA, get me on your team. I’m gonna make your satellites sarcastic, and give your rover a selfie. Maybe I’ll put Philae on OkCupid.