NASA has essentially stopped tweeting about the #JourneyToMars

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Enlarge / Really, guys, we’re going.

NASA

NASA has an extraordinarily popular Twitter account. 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 remotely close to the top 100, which mostly consists of celebrities. It is, therefore, a bastion of science, space, and reason in a sea of reality TV, late night television, and sports stars.

During the last several years, one of the NASA Twitter feed’s most common hashtags has been #JourneyToMars, representative of the agency’s stated goal of sending humans to Mars in the 2030s. The “Journey to Mars” had been a frequent talking point for Administrator Charles Bolden and other agency leaders. They talked about the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft as key components of this mission.

But on the day Donald Trump became president and Bolden left his post as administrator, NASA has essentially stopped tweeting about the Journey to Mars. In the half-dozen months prior to President Trump’s inauguration, the @NASA account used the #JourneyToMars hashtag, on average, about six times a month. However, NASA’s main account has used it on Twitter just once since the new POTUS took office.

Should a discerning reader of NASA’s social media accounts read anything into this, Ars asked? “Not at all,” said Bob Jacobs. He’s the agency’s deputy associate administrator for communications and the manager over NASA’s social media activity. “Lot of accounts have used it. Think I just saw it on SLS last week. It was branded on Super Bowl exhibits and SXSW. Mars is still a destination, as are locations beyond Moon and even further into space. We’re finding hashtags are not as valuable as they once were on social media.”

It seems unlikely that any directive has come down from the Trump administration to stop tweeting about the Journey to Mars. More likely, the absence of #JourneyToMars reflects how the new administration has given almost no public support for the concept. Indeed, there are signs that any Trump space plan will involve lunar activity, at least in the short term. (In the meantime, NASA remains in complete limbo. There is no clear direction, and factions within the Trump administration are warring about 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 directors, and, yes, public affairs representatives. Many of them feel the constant #JourneyToMars hype has overstated the limited progress the agency has actually made toward landing humans on the Red Planet.



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