NASA has put men on the Moon, traversed the plains of Mars, and snapped a close-up portrait of Pluto. And now it can add another giant feat to its impressive resume: conquering the world of television.
The US space agency won the Emmy award for Outstanding Original Interactive Program on Sept. 8 at the Creative Arts Emmys (a segment of the prestigious TV awards that airs a week before the big ceremony and honors more technical achievements, like production design and sound editing). Introduced last year, the category recognizes the best in cross-platform digital storytelling. Here’s how the television Academy describes the award NASA just won:
These experiences demonstrate outstanding use of creative elements, such as social engagement and user experience design, and typically involve digital executions for online, mobile, virtual/augmented reality, and/or other interactive means of deepening the audience’s connection with the related program.
NASA, which has built a huge online fan base for its clever, engaging, and sometimes moving or cheeky social media presence, won for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s (JPL) “Cassini’s Grand Finale” campaign. As the Cassini spacecraft took a few final images of Saturn before burning up in the ringed planet’s atmosphere, NASA documented the its final moments across various social media channels.
It beat out a crowded field of interactive experiences, including ones designed for the films Blade Runner 2049, Coco, and Spider-Man: Homecoming. (Scripted TV series are in a separate category, unsurprisingly won this year by Westworld and its elaborate interactive experiences.)
Cassini’s Grand Finale included livestreams of the occasion as well as 360-degree virtual reality video and realtime data updates—all brought together by NASA’s signature personality.
One of those responsible for the winning experience was Veronica McGregor, the social media manager at JPL, whom Quartz profiled in 2015. A decade ago, when McGregor live-tweeted the Phoenix lander’s descent to the surface of Mars, she started the NASA trend of tweeting from agency accounts from the first-person perspective of spacecrafts, one of the agency’s many social media innovations.
NASA now has more Emmys than some of the greatest TV shows of all time, including Star Trek and The Wire. It also now has one more Emmy than Donald Trump, whose reality series The Apprentice was nominated eight times but lost every time.