Rover Curiosity Sticks the Landing for NASA’s Public Relations

NASA needed this. So did the American public. This is an election year, which means Americans are being dragged through another tough political campaign that rouses the worst in us as we scowl at our own moms for espousing political beliefs other than our own. The anemic economy continues to struggle, and the public raises an eyebrow whenever they see taxpayers’ money on display.

These days NASA is constantly under the discerning microscope of American unease. It’s tough, after all, for your favorite uncle—who has been unemployed for two years—to be excited about ice on Mars. Unless Mars is hiring, he’s not interested. When budgets are tight and times are tough, the public scrutinizes government spending and the NASA detractors show up in force decrying the funds misspent on exploring space that could have been used to feed, educate and house our own citizens. Deep down, we know they’re right. But then the images arrive.

There it is: Mars. Your unemployed uncle sits up for the first time in months.

Human beings like to feel connected to something bigger than ourselves, and nothing is bigger than space. Nothing can make a person more powerfully insignificant than realizing the universe has no opinion about us as individual humans or a collective human race slugging its way through a version of time that only we are measuring. Mars doesn’t care about your overdue cable bill, and there is something both comforting and uplifting about that fact. Chances are the brilliant minds at NASA that hurl technologies and dreams into space don’t worry too much about PR. They’re focused on success because they know everyone loves a winner. NASA, with the recent demise of the shuttle program, needed a big win. And so did the American public.

PR experts specialize in the power of perspective, and nothing offers more perspective than a picture from Mars—a desolate and distant rock where the mere notion of ice reduces every obsequious politician, every struggling uncle, and every overdue cable bill to its own world of irrelevance. Thanks NASA. We get it.