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How NASA Sold Space To Earth

Nasa Selling Space

The main difference between the American and Russian space programs was that NASA decided to follow an “open program” in which information on all aspects of the program would be freely available to the public.

Moreover, it was decided at the time that NASA, and not the military establishment would control the flow of information, but additionally, that all relevant information would be disseminated before each mission, and not like the Russian program, via a short press release after the event.

In terms of the mechanics of the marketing campaign, NASA’s Public Affairs Office decided not to interfere in the message conveyed, but that it would only control the rate at which information was released. Moreover, since the Public Affairs Office was not staffed by newsmen, NASA appointed ex-newsmen to do the actual reporting.

Newsmen and Media Flow of Information

This was a revolutionary step, since no other government agency had ever used the principle that Nasa selling space to earth “Newsmen know what other newsmen want and need,” in the sense that newsmen knew better than anyone else which stories in which language, and in which media would have the biggest impact.

To further support the campaign, NASA provided everything their reporters required- from by-lined articles, television and film newsreels, background material in the form of technical information, drawings, diagrams, and even sponsored media symposiums and conferences. NASA also sponsored and produced several radio broadcasts that included interviews and sound effects.

The result was spectacular. The continuous flow of accurate, and unbiased information had the effect of keeping the Apollo missions firmly lodged in the collective American mind, but not only that, all information was available to whoever wanted, or needed it anywhere in the world. Even the many failures and disasters were fully reported on, and rarely in the history of marketing was a campaign as successful as the Apollo campaign.

Space Program Advertising Success

Not even the cynical comments made at the time that it was better to advertise the space program than to reveal its true cost to the American tax payer, had any negative impact on the success of the campaign. Unfortunately, the same tactics were not employed for the Space Shuttle Program, which is perhaps just as well, since the Challenger disaster almost completely destroyed public confidence in the Space program.

Learn more about NASA Space Programme by Michelle Legro on brain Pickings

The Planetary Society - NASA Lobbying

The planetary society

This group is actively lobbying for Congressional support aimed at restoring NASA’s Planetary Science Division’s budget to its historical average of $1.5 billion per year. Repeated budget cuts has slashed the Division’s budget to a mere $1.28 billion per year, which the Planetary Society says has crippled one of the most effective divisions within NASA.

The Planetary Society's Opinion

The planetary society's budgetThe Planetary Society holds the opinion that $1.5 billion per year is the absolute minimum amount required to balance the Division’s activities, which include small, medium, and large missions, scientific research, and the development of new technologies.

According to the Planetary Society, NASA is not spending enough on small missions and scientific research, and almost nothing on research on new technologies.

Putting the amount of $1.5 billion into perspective, The Planetary Society says that it represents less than 9% of NASA’s total expenditure, and substantially less than the amount American pet owners spent on toys for their dogs during 2012.

ProSpace & The Space Prize Lobby

prospace Citizen's Space Lobby

Despite their best efforts over the last decade, ProSpace has not been overly successful in their mission to garner Government backing for commercial space transportation services. The main thrust of their efforts involves persuading NASA to increase the cash prizes for competitions aimed at designers of space craft, launch vehicles, and other space related hardware.

ProSpace is pushing hard at lawmakers to allow NASA to sponsor prizes that exceed $250 000- prizes which they believe will motivate designers to come up with innovative solutions for technical problems NASA has neither the time, inclination, or capacity to solve.


Issues in Lobbying for Bigger Competition Prizes

However, the NASA Authorization Act of 2005 authorizesNasa NASA to put up a total of $10 million in prize money for competitions that could address technological issues, and in special cases, even more. The bad news is that permission to increase prizes beyond $10 million must first be obtained from congressional oversight committees, and to date, permission has not been granted.

In addition to lobbying for bigger competition prizes, ProSpace is also actively campaigning for Congressional support for a new Government agency to be called the National Space Prize Board, with an annual budget in excess of $100 million to arrange, and oversee competitions that NASA could not be bothered with.

The Trouble With Space Industry Marketing

nasa marketing campaign

Advertising is good for business, as any business person will know, and up to a point, the business of space flight is no different. However, despite NASA’s hugely successful marketing campaigns in the late 1950’s and right throughout the 1960’s when it sold the Moon to the world, the Challenger disaster in 1984 completely de-romanticized the notion of pace flight.

Moreover, the Strategic Defence Initiative, dubbed Star Wars, did much to remove any remaining romantic notions around space flight from the collective public consciousness, and from a purely marketing perspective, it became almost impossible to push the advantages of space flight back into the headlines.

commercial space advertisingMost of the advertising around spaceflight is now done on an in-house basis by the aerospace companies involved, with the notable exception of Virgin Galactic, who had been using the mainstream media to promote the notion of space tourism. However, the destruction of one of their craft in an accident had a huge negative impact on the idea of space tourism, and flights have been postponed indefinitely.

However, as a marketing strategy, NASA’s efforts to sell the idea of moon landings were hugely successful, and nothing like it has been done since, but then again, NASA operated under vastly different conditions then than it does now, so watch this space for more insight on how NASA sold the Moon, as well as some other, albeit less spectacular marketing campaigns by marketing companies, space agencies including ESA and MarsOne.