NASA nails wry Juno outreach

Adding a sardonic dash to its trademark social media openness, NASA celebrated the initial success of its mission to Jupiter.

Jupiter. Image via NASA.

Image of Jupiter via the Hubble Space Telescope. Photo credit: NASA, ESA and A. Simon

A spacecraft named for Jupiter's oft-spurned wife Juno joined myriad moons – each bearing Greek monikers for Jupiter's many lovers – in Jove's orbit just after 11 p.m. EDT on July 4.

Yes, it was intentional.                            

The mythological allusion played no small role in NASA's Juno public relations campaign, which itself continued the space agency's history of social media success.

NASA offered a livestream of the Juno arrival and in the following press conference took questions from social media.

On that stream, Rick Nybakken, the Juno project manager with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, praised his teams' precision.

"After a 1.7 billion mile journey, we hit our burn targets within one second, on a target that was just tens of kilometers large," Nybakken noted. "Isn't that incredible?"

The mission was overseen by JPL in Pasadena, Calif., as well as by a Lockheed Martin team based in Littleton, Colo.

NASA administrator Charlie Bolden hailed the successful Independence Day mission in a traditional press release.

"[W]hat is more American than a NASA mission going boldly where no spacecraft has gone before?" Bolden said. "With Juno, we will investigate the unknowns of Jupiter's massive radiation belts to delve deep into not only the planet's interior, but into how Jupiter was born and how our entire solar system evolved."

Besides the press release and livestream press conference, NASA deployed varied tools to spread the word of Juno's orbital establishment.

On Twitter, a dedicated Juno account replied to tweets and pushed a Jupiter hashtag, while on Tumblr NASA went GIF-crazy, as Tumblr users will do.

On Instagram, NASA published videos of the approach to Jupiter as well as the raucous moment the team on Earth learned their ship had made it.

NASA's social media folks didn't need to post anything to make it to the front page of Reddit; users picked up the Juno-Jupiter-mistresses connection themselves.

"I'm starting to think these NASA people are huge nerds," said one.

The Juno mission to Jupiter is the second of NASA's New Frontiers treks. The first, New Horizons, arrived at Pluto a year ago and gave the space agency to debut a never-before-seen shot of the dwarf planet on Instagram.