Advertising to infinity! And beyond...

Is advertising in space about to become a reality?

Kitty Marie
15th October 2018
Photo by NASA on Unsplash

In the world today there are not many places you can go without being bombarded by advertising; from three minute tutorials on YouTube telling you how to make your own website to random female activists telling you how much they love a certain chocolate brand at the cinema. Advertising has almost taken over our daily lives, it is everywhere; newspaper websites, SPAM email, YouTube, the cinema, billboards, buses, football, F1 racing and now, potentially,…in space.

If you ever thought of becoming an astronaut just so you could get away from the banal commercials on planet earth then think again. In September 2018 it was announced by Jim Bridenstine, a NASA official, that companies could potentially be allowed to advertise on NASA rockets in the future. The idea comes at a time when space missions are no longer front page news and company managers must save every bean just to survive another few months.

NASA forks out an average of four billion US dollars a year to operate the International Space Station, this is federal funding, part of congress funding in the USA. In the past NASA have been much like England’s own BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), disallowed to advertise in any capacity; this comes from the idea that government agencies are not to endorse any corporate company. There are laws that outline reasons for this but, as with any law, there have been many loopholes over the years which have let advertising slip through. A prime example of this is NASA’s partnership with Caltech enabling NASA Hotwheels to be licensed in the 90s [The Verge, September 2018].

There has been some support for the NASA advertising scheme with officials saying the scheme will ease government expenditure on the Space Association; advertising could potentially be used to fund missions. However, the more likely outcome would be that the excess money gained from this would not be spent on NASA, but instead would just lie around in the Treasury Department.

Louder opinions can be heard from those who do not support the scheme, including two former astronauts Scott Kelly and Michael Lopez-Alegria, both outlining not just the financial but moral issues with the scheme; it would not be right for a government agency to endorse any product.

It isn’t just former astronauts who dislike the idea.  USA congressman Edward Markey, said he didn’t want children wishing “upon a falling billboard”. This truly emphasises the undermining effect advertising would have on NASA. Space exploration has always been something people could depend on to enable them to escape the mundanities of planet earth, advertising being one of these mundanities.

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