NASA has an extremely popular Twitter accounts. With 22.4 million followers, it ranks among the top 60 accounts on all of Twitter. It is the only US government agency to come close to the top 100, which consists mostly of celebrities. It is therefore a stronghold of science, space and reason in a sea of reality TV, nightly television and sports stars.
In recent years, #JourneyToMars has been one of the NASA Twitter feed’s most-used hashtags, representative of the agency’s stated goal of sending humans to Mars in the 2030s. The “Journey to Mars” had been a frequent topic for Administrator Charles Bolden and other bureau leaders. They spoke of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft as key components of this mission.
But the day Donald Trump became president and Bolden stepped down as administrator, NASA essentially stopped tweeting about the Journey to Mars. In the six months leading up to President Trump’s inauguration, the @NASA account used the hashtag #JourneyToMars an average of six times a month. However, NASA’s main account has only used it once on Twitter since the new POTUS took office.
Should a discerning reader of NASA’s social media accounts read about this, Ars asked? “Not at all,” said Bob Jacobs. He is the deputy associate administrator of the Office of Communications and the manager of NASA’s social media activities. “Many accounts have used it. I think I saw it on SLS last week. It was branded at Super Bowl exhibits and SXSW. Mars is still a destination, as are locations beyond the Moon and even further into space. We find hashtags are not as valuable as they once were on social media.”
It seems unlikely that a directive has come from the Trump administration to stop tweeting about the Journey to Mars. More likely, the absence of #JourneyToMars reflects how the new government has left almost no public support for the concept. Indeed, there are signs that every Trump space plan involves lunar activity, at least in the short term. (Meanwhile, NASA remains in limbo. There is no clear direction and factions within the Trump administration are fighting over the agency’s priorities).
Perhaps NASA’s social media mavens are also tired of the Journey to Mars. Ars has had conversations with more than a few NASA astronauts, engineers, flight controllers and, yes, public affairs representatives. Many of them feel that the constant #JourneyToMars hype has exaggerated the limited progress the agency has actually made in landing humans on the Red Planet.