For billions of years asteroids have been hitting the Earth. But what if Earth (and humankind) found a way to strike back? That’s the question that NASA and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), sought to answer with the world’s first planetary defense demonstration, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART). Johns Hopkins APL manages the DART mission for NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office.
In a scenario ripped from Hollywood blockbusters, scientists and engineers autonomously directed the DART spacecraft at an asteroid, smashing into it at about 14,000 miles per hour with the goal of altering its orbit around a larger parent asteroid. Dimorphos, the target asteroid, was not a threat to Earth, but the binary asteroid system was the perfect testing ground to see if intentionally crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid would be an effective way to change its course (spoiler alert: it is!).
NASA and Johns Hopkins APL created a campaign organized around #DARTMission with the goal of building public awareness around the global impact of the world’s first planetary defense mission. Throughout the campaign, the objective was to:
One-Way Ticket to an Asteroid Crash
The campaign began to take shape once the #DARTMission spacecraft was built and ready to be launched into space in November 2021. Both the NASA and APL teams began to grow public excitement around the launch using tactics that included:
All of this led up to NASA’s livestream of the launch, which featured some of the content collected from the #DARTMission campaign.
Watching History as it Happens
Once the DART mission was underway, NASA and APL began a countdown to Sept. 26, 2022 – the day that #DARTMission would make impact with its target asteroid. With the goal of creating an engaged and informed audience interested and excited about the impact day livestream, the NASA and APL communications teams partnered to create the following:
Cosmic Collision Countdown
As Sept. 26, 2022 neared, excitement around the world grew – would DART make impact with its target asteroid? Thanks to the #DARTMission campaign, audience members across the globe were ready to tune in to the live broadcast on NASA TV, watching the action from the DART Mission Operations Center at APL, to learn the answer to the same question. This hype was created through:
All of which led up to NASA’s livestream of the impact, when the world got to witness #DARTMission successfully collide with Dimorphos in near-real time!
Bullseye! Earth Strikes Back
After DART successfully made impact with its asteroid target, the #DARTMission campaign analytics began to roll in.
On the day of impact, the DART impact livestream peaked at nearly 1.1 million concurrent viewers, with a total of 5.2 million views overall, marking NASA’s largest live viewing audience since February 2021. The livestream was the #1 trending video on YouTube after the broadcast.
There was a 375% increase in digital media mentions of DART the day before impact, which then grew to over 56,000 mentions from outlets worldwide on September 26. The #DARTMission hashtag was used over 48,000 times and was the #1 trending topic on Twitter on Sept. 26. Mission mentions included conversation from a variety of high-profile users, including politicians, celebrities, and influencers.
Key impact posts that performed well included NASA’s tweet declaring impact success, which received over 80,000 engagements and over 1.5 million video views, as well as a YouTube video of the impact that received over 375,000 views.
A Smash Hit: Overall Campaign Analytics
APL posted about #DARTMission over 700 times throughout the campaign; 150 of those posts were in the month before impact and had a reach of over 1.2 million, over 68,000 engagements, and 14,000 link clicks.
For NASA, the DART launch campaign was the agency’s fourth most popular campaign which received 121,000+ social media mentions. For example, the DART image carousel that was posted on Instagram was, at the time, the most-engaged agency social media post with 1.8+ million engagements.