"We come in peace, and bring beer!": How Budweiser could be about to reignite the space race
While officials stress that nothing has been finalized, the idea could mark a giant cultural leap for the space agency.
Jim Bridenstine, the disruptive new NASA administrator, is looking to boost the space agency's brand by allowing its astronauts to appear in commercials and product boxes like celebrity athletes and by selling naming rights to outgoing spacecraft.
While Bridenstine's plan could mark a monumental cultural leap for the government agency, it could run into ethics regulations that prevent government officials from profiting off their public office, according to The Washington Post. However, officials insist that nothing has been finalized as yet.
NASA has always been wary of appearing to favor any particular corporate brand. They went so far as to call the M&Ms astronauts pop in space “candy-coated chocolates”.
A great read from @wordsofwalsh. "At this point in NASA’s history, Bridenstine has the task of incorporating the private sector into the agency’s long-term missions — to establish a permanent presence on the moon and land an astronaut on Mars." https://t.co/KqRoJosNKq— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) June 28, 2018
That said, Bridenstine announced during a recent meeting that he was forming a committee to examine "provocative questions" like turning rockets into corporate billboards similar to NASCAR racecars.
“Is it possible for NASA to offset some of its costs by selling the naming rights to its spacecraft, or the naming rights to its rockets,” Bridenstine said. “I’m telling you there is interest in that right now. The question is: Is it possible? The answer is: I don’t know, but we want somebody to give us advice on whether it is.”
According to him, astronauts should be more accessible to the press and must participate in marketing opportunities to boost both their personal brands as well as that of NASA.
"I'd like to see kids growing up, instead of maybe wanting to be like a professional sports star, I'd like to see them grow up wanting to be a NASA astronaut, or a NASA scientist,” he said. “I'd like to see, maybe one day, NASA astronauts on the cover of a cereal box, embedded into the American culture."
The new NASA administrator is making broad efforts to generate a reliable cash funnel for expeditions to low Earth orbits. The space agency, which already uses outside services to fly cargo to the International Space Station, is actively looking to transport crew with the help of private organizations. Even the White House has announced that it intends to turn over operations of the floating laboratory in space to a private entity and end direct funding for related projects.
Having said that, there are quite a few companies who are supporting the current administration's bid to ease regulations and promote private-sector growth, considering they aspire to deploy their own commercial space stations someday.
Mike Gold, the chairman of the new NASA committee, said, "As NASA looks toward the future of private-sector space stations, it's vital to explore these kinds of innovative commercial concepts to ensure that the U.S. maintains an ongoing presence is low Earth orbit."
But the idea of privatizing the International Space Station received backlash from House Democrats. Quite a few congressmen on the other side of the aisle are of the opinion that the United States government must hold on to an asset in which they have invested over $100 billion.
Some previous NASA experts also echoed the skepticism about the idea of selling naming rights or having astronauts appear in commercials. Former NASA astronaut, Scott Kelly, who spent almost a year in space, wrote an email to The Washington Post, saying that it “would be a dramatic shift from the rules prohibiting government officials from using their public office for private gain. But I guess this is the world we live in now. ”
However, despite the opposition, companies have already started incorporating space into their marketing campaigns. Just recently, Budweiser announced its plans to be “the first beer on Mars,” after plans to study barley in the weightless environment of the ISS.
“While socializing on Mars might be in the near-distant future, Budweiser is taking steps now to better understand how its ingredients react in microgravity environments so that when we get to Mars, Budweiser will be there," the company said.