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Retiring the Opportunity Rover Reveals NASA’s Marketing Chops
NASA’s 15-year-old Mars rover, Opportunity, was declared dead last month.
When news spread that a planet-wide dust storm on Mars was forcing Opportunity to retire, the world basically held a social media funeral for the robot. There were eulogies, pictures and fan art depictions. The hashtag #thanksoppy trended for days, and NASA received countless well wishes.
The internet responded as if its pet had died in the saddest way possible – alone and crying into the darkness. How was NASA able to build such an emotional response for what was basically a giant golf cart 34 million miles away?
Opportunity Rover gets a contract extension
Opportunity was only meant to have a 90-day excursion on the red planet. Then the rover discovered signs of water on Mars in 2004, a revolutionary scientific breakthrough. NASA decided to continue using the rover for data collection and observation.
In doing so, NASA also jumped at the chance to use Opportunity as a marketing tool. It leveraged social media, blog posts and video to keep the public informed about the rover’s discoveries, travels and whereabouts. It posted plenty of pictures depicting Opportunity as a cute traveling robot. Before we knew it, the general public was rooting for Opportunity as our ambassador on a faraway world.
The Power of Regular Content Updates
The secret sauce to NASA’s success was delivering bite-sized content that kept the public informed. NASA played the long game with steady updates on Opportunity over the course of a 15-year period. In doing so, NASA kept a story alive by captivating a nationwide audience and squeezing every bit of PR out of the process all the way up to Opportunity’s end. NASA is even keeping the public informed of its rover recovery mission to this day in a live blog post.