BENGALURU: Space enthusiasts with an active presence on microblogging site Twitter were in for a treat on September 24, 2014, when the Mars Orbiter, launched the previous year by the Indian Space Research organisation (ISRO), was placed into orbit around the red planet. Around the same time, the orbiter’s very own Twitter account went live with a witty riddle announcing the success of India’s famed mission to Mars.
The first tweet from the handle @MarsOrbiter, which asked Twitter ‘What is red, is a planet and is the focus of my orbit?’, received over 1 thousand replies and was retweeted 12,000 times. It got a further 8,000 likes leaving space buffs hungry for more. The next tweet, a breakfast break for the orbiter, got over 3,000 retweets and, on the same day, a shout out to the Curiousity rover of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) got over 14,000 retweets and 18,000 likes. “Howdy @MarsCuriosity? Keep in touch. I’ll be around,” India’s orbiter said.
While it may have kept that promise in real life, it definitely didn’t do so in the virtual world. On December 31, the orbiter bid farewell to the then outgoing ISRO chief K Radhakrishan after which it maintained radio silence on Twitter for three months. From March 2015, the orbiter’s Twitter account started posting very irregularly and the last post on its account is on January 1, 2016.
During the course of its Twitter journey, @MarsOrbiter accumulated a massive following. While the main Twitter handle of ISRO has around 14 lakh followers, around 5 lakh people follow the orbiter’s account alone. Followers include NASA, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the NITI Aayog and several other ministers and politicians. Among the 5 lakh are also people who are disappointed with ISRO for choosing not to continue engaging with them on Twitter through the Orbiter account.
“The initial tweets made me think this was a game changer. While the @ISRO account simply puts out updates that are of a more technical nature, @MarsOrbiter actually had nice videos and explanatory content which was easy to understand. I hope they start it again,” said Kaushik Chatterjee, an amateur astronomer. During the same time, NASA’s MAVEN mission, which has around 125,000 followers, continues to Tweet regularly and engage with its audience. The Curiosity rover, which has been on Mars since 2012, has gathered a massive 3.9 million following on the social media site and continues to add new content and followers regularly.