Curious Humor

This image shows one of the first views from NASA’s Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars the evening of Aug. 5 PDT (early morning hours Aug. 6 EDT). It was taken through a "fisheye" wide-angle lens on one of the rover’s Hazard-Avoidance cameras. These engineering cameras are located at the rover’s base. As planned, the early images are lower resolution. Larger color images are expected later in the week when the rover’s mast, carrying high-resolution cameras, is deployed. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Who knew that landing a rover on Mars could be so funny? But when NASA’s Curiosity successfully touched down on Mars, the outpouring of jokes really took off.

Ever since the Mars Science Laboratory survived its ‘seven minutes of terror,’ which Conan O’Brien compared to a JPL engineer meeting a woman in the hallway, the jokes have been non-stop.

Most Internet memes can be grouped into several categories including politics, the Olympics, and life on Mars.

Under politics, several memes show Mitt Romney burying his tax records on Mars. Another meme shows a Martian immigration official demanding Curiousity to, "Show me your papers!" A recycled meme from previous rover missions shows two Martians watching Curiosity with one asking the other, "We don’t have any oil, do we?"

The Olympics are another favorite theme with various references to Curiosity, "sticking the landing."

NBC’s broadcast of the Olympics also came in for a ribbing with at least one newspaper cartoon, and several Internet memes, complaining that NBC had a six hour delay for an event 3,500 miles away while NASA only had a, "14 minute delay for an event 155,000,000 million miles away."

Even Google got into the spirit showing an Olympic javelin thrower on its home page with Curiosity landing in the background.

"If people are talking about the mission and having fun, we’re all for it," says Veronica McGregor, a spokesperson for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory(JPL) in Pasadena, California. "We’re laughing at (the jokes) just like everyone else."

There has been almost as much Photoshopping of Curiosity’s landing as news coverage. One of the more common Internet images shows a cat underneath Curiosity’s wheel with the headline, "Curiosity Kills the Cat."

Curiosity also features in Issue 2 of the Astrobiology Program’s graphic history, Astrobiology: The Story of Our Search for Life in the Universe. Image Credit: Aaron L. Gronstal/NASA Astrobiology

Additionally, there are a number of "first photos" from the Martian surface. These range from a half buried Starbucks coffee cup to a picture of the Alien creature, Marvin the Martian (of Bugs Bunny fame), the red and white stripped stocking feet of the Wicked Witch of the East, and a group of Martian protestors holding signs saying, "Yankee Go Home," and "Mars for Martians."

"It’s easy to make fun of the rover," says Dr. Gil Greengross, an anthropology professor at the University of Mexico. "It’s not really a person, so there’s no danger anyone will be offended."

In addition to comparing JPL engineers to the staff at Best Buy because of the blue shirts they wore during the landing, The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart said Curiosity’s successful landing, "statistically increases the likelihood someone at Mission Control is going to get laid."

In fact, it doesn’t take a spectrometer to detect a somewhat dark strain in some of the humor. One NASA image shows NASA’s "meatball" logo with the words, "Spends $2.6 billion on current project…streams it online for free," superimposed over it.

But perhaps the most popular Curiosity meme have been the tweets from someone calling themselves "@SarcasticRover."

"Finally ready to start the day!" one tweet begins. "Looking forward to staring at f–king dirt for the next two years."

Another tweet reads: "I wish George Lucas was alive to see this…LOL sorry, I meant I wish his artistic integrity was alive to see this."

And finally, "Nothing like sunrise on Mars…HAHAHAHA I’m kidding! It’s horrible, still cold, sun’s so far away, I’m so lonely."

Which just goes to show that Curiosity may not have found life on Mars yet, but it’s certainly found humor.