The social media impact of NASA and other scientific institutions

Yesterday, my SETI Institute colleagues and I had a discussion about the importance of NASA in the minds of people in the USA, and around the world. The achievements of NASA are definitely universal and the latest interest of people for Curiosity, the car-sized rover which landed recently on Mars, is a vivid example. It is inspirational for the scientists to see that our friends and family follow with interest, the development of the mission, its challenging landing, the first step of the rover, and more recently its first self-portrait.

The NASA planetary exploration program is a superb scientific and exploration endeavor, but it also has ripple effects on our life. To explore these new worlds, we challenge scientists & engineers to create and use new technologies. The program also inspires the young generation to be interested in science, mathematics and technology.

 [left] My son proudly showing an MSL-Curiosity mockup that we made for his kindergarden class (credit: F. Marchis). [right] A self-portrait of the rover taken using its arm-camera in Sol 32 (credit: NASA / JPL / MSSS / Emily Lakdawalla)

Is there any way we could quantify this social impact of NASA and rate it with respect to other brands and institutions?