Heading to Mars

Last week President Obama reaffirmed NASA’s commitment to send humans to Mars “by the 2030s and returning them safely to Earth.”  In an op-ed published on CNN.com, President Obama said that such an undertaking will “require continued cooperation between government and private innovators.”

To understand the reaction to this news, we analyzed Twitter data from the days following the announcement.  Unsurprisingly, the announcement generated a large amount of activity, peaking on October 12th with over 35,000 tweets that include the words “Mars.”  The activity dipped to 30,000 on October 13th before dramatically falling off in the remainder of the week.

Examination of the content reveals numerous ways in which organizations and individuals sought to get in on the action.  For example both Boeing (@boeing) and SpaceX (@spacex), two private companies engaged in the space race, positioned themselves as being the company that would bring humans to Mars, sparking engagement and conversation.

SpaceX dominated the share of voice, with nearly 2250 mentions in the 3 days after the Obama op-ed. Prior to the Obama op-ed, SpaceX founder Elon Musk had made numerous high profile statements about Mars, which likely contributed to the larger volume.  For example, the Bloomberg tweet below was retweeted 51 times in the days after the Obama op-ed, even though the original tweet was authored more than a week before the op-ed.

In contrast, Boeing was mentioned only about 350 times, about 250 of which mentioned both SpaceX and Boeing, highlighting the competition between them.

On a less serious note, a number of comedians got in on the action.  Many of them drawing on the other big news of the day: Donald Trump's "locker room talk."  Indeed, two of the most retweeted tweets in the time period were these from Chelsea Handler (@chelseahandler) and Seth MacFarlane (@sethmacfarlane).  Some other lesser known comedians got in on the fun as well.

Lastly, digital media website @Mashable leveraged the Mars conversation in a big way, with over 350 mentions over the next several days, stemming from various content pieces produced to tie into the news headlines:

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