Out of This World PR: How These Brands Approached Space Flight in 2019
The space flight industry has always employed a strong and proactive PR factor. From the very first time an American traveled out of the atmosphere, to the most recent safe landings of previously launched rockets, the cameras have always been rolling and the stories have always been told. Astronauts are considered heroes, and those who work on space machines revered as some of the brightest minds in their fields.
That said, not all the narratives around the modern space race have been positive, with explosions, misfires, and other setbacks making national and international news.
SpaceX has stayed in the news cycle regularly for years now. Elon Musk, funding his Mars colony dreams with commercial jobs, grabbed attention by telling the world that his company is track to fly to Mars. As his company reportedly worked to test prototypes of his Mars “starship,” Musk kept the narrative flowing with successive and, eventually, successful test landings of “reusable” rockets, a concept generally assumed “impossible”… Until SpaceX did it over and over again.
While the company spent the past few years turning “impossible” into relatively commonplace, tech media and consumers wondered how the Mars project was going. SpaceX rewarded this curiosity by completing multiple tests of its Starhopper prototype “starship.” When one of those tests failed, spectacularly, Musk remained undaunted, telling the media his company was already working on the next generation Starhopper.
Boeing, already having a tough year thanks to two tragic plane crashes, got a bit of an initial PR boost with what Boeing itself called a “successful” test of its Starliner spacecraft, which was expected to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station as early as this year. That positive PR was short-lived, as others are saying that calling the test a “success” is a gross overstatement. Several problems occurred, leading to an aborted flight and more questions as to who, exactly, would carry the next Americans into space.
That question remains one of the biggest elephants in the room in any discussion about the American space program. Since the shuttle program was scrapped, the industry has shifted to using commercial equipment and, in the case of NASA astronauts, often catching rides on foreign spacecraft.
Avoiding this question directly, NASA has chosen, instead, to push a positive and proactive narrative, with none other than Vice President Mike Pence promising that Americans would return to return to the moon “within the next five years.” The announcement, as well as the aggressive timeline, certainly won headlines.
As part of the surprise announcement, Pence said NASA would work with commercial partners on the project, with the intention of sending the first woman to the moon as a primary goal of the project. NASA immediately began to fast-track its program, which had planned to return to the moon by the end of the 20s. That accelerated timeline is one of the reasons NASA is depending on the private sector this time around. The message? Competition drives innovation, and the space agency will need loads of that to meet the Veep’s timeline.