Curiosity Rover Explores Martian Surface, The Internet

After a spectacular landing, the NASA rover Curiosity has begun its two-year mission to discover if life could have existed on Mars.

In recent weeks, however, coverage in mainstream sources has begun to decrease. For those interested in the ongoing Mars mission, NASA has developed a presence on the Web designed to educate and, as best they can, entertain.

Interested readers should first travel to the Mars Science Laboratory website, where a wealth of news and media await. Most of the site is tame from a design perspective, reflecting a Martian theme but never being overcomplicated. This is still a government agency’s website. Navigation is intuitive enough, and the resources located there are extensive. There were no issues with hosted media during the time I spent there, and pages loaded quickly on a Calvin Wi-Fi connection. Scientific blogs, interactive features where one can watch how the craft landed or command a digital rover and a wealth of media are all hosted in their respective sections. If one is unfamiliar with Mars itself, there is an FAQ outlining some information about the famous red planet. Language used on the site is accessible and simplified, avoiding unneeded technical jargon.

For those using a mobile device, NASA created both a mobile version of the site and applications for Android, iOS and Windows Phone. The former is far less visually appealing than the desktop iteration, and many of the links are rendered in a small font and easy to miss when tapping around. During my time on the site, all the media from the main site was accessible, though getting to it was considerably more difficult. Although the mobile presence is passable, I would not advise those wanting to follow Curiosity’s investigations in depth to use it more than necessary.

Whatever its faults, the mobile site is preferable to the mobile app, titled “Be a Martian.” After opening onto a somewhat goofy splash page, the app shows that it is the definition of skeletal. Most of the loading indicators lack animation, scrolling was buggy on my test device, and one section merely loads part of the mobile website. The font used for most of the section titles is supposed to appear futuristic but at smaller sizes and when superimposed over photos and renderings of Mars it is difficult to read.  I encountered no crashes or obvious bugs. The Be a Martian application is usable, but even the cluttered mobile website is preferable.

Beyond that, the mainstream and science or technology media have been covering Curiosity with some interest over the last few weeks. Sites like The Verge and Ars Technica provide more reliable and visible coverage than larger, more general publications. The New York Times, for instance, has not published an article about the mission since August 6. The BBC has been better but more sporadic than the specialty sources. For those looking outside of NASA’s own offerings, it is best to choose one or two sites that offer mainly scientific coverage, as there the coverage will likely be more regular and, more importantly, better written and researched.