Selling The Moon - Part II
NASA ramps up its marketing and PR efforts to ensure Apollo 11 gets to the Moon.
Back in 1971, a very interesting occurrence happened in my hometown of Sudbury, Ontario.
NASA sent the Apollo 16 astronauts to train in Sudbury. And the following year, the Apollo 17 astronauts arrived.
It was a big deal, and I remember it vividly because the astronauts arrived on my birthday, July 7th.
For years, a myth has surrounded those visits - that the reason NASA sent the astronauts to Sudbury was because its terrain "most resembled the lunar landscape."
It became a running joke - and not one Sudburians appreciated. Sudbury and "moonscape" became forever unfairly linked.
Because the real reason NASA sent astronauts to Sudbury…was geology.
See, approximately 1.87 billion years ago, a cataclysmic event occurred in the Sudbury area.
A gigantic meteorite travelling at around Mach 100, slammed into the Earth with the impact force equivalent to several billion tons of TNT.
Geology expert Robert Szep estimated that had the impact happened in modern times, the concussive wave would have wiped out all people, places and things within an 800 kilometre, or 500 mile, radius of ground zero.
Football-sized rocks from the impact site hurled skyward, some of which were found as far away as Minnesota.
The meteorite punched a hole in the Earth's crust, measuring 60 kilometres long, and 15 kilometres deep, or 39 miles long and 9 miles deep.
The impact caused molten concentrations of nickel and copper to ooze up and fill the crater. This formation would become known as the Sudbury Basin. It would sit undiscovered until 1883.
At that time, the Canadian Pacific Railway was being built across Canada, and a blacksmith who was working on the excavation noticed a rich deposit of nickel ore.
Mining started in 1886, and INCO set up operations in 1902. Thomas Edison visited Sudbury the year before, and is credited with finding the ore body that Falconbridge would eventually mine in 1928.
As a result, Sudbury became the nickel capital of the world – a gift delivered from outer space. The Sudbury basin has been mined continuously for over 100 years, with no end in site.
The reason the astronauts were sent to Sudbury in 1971 was because of that crater.
They were training to recognize the difference between basins created by meteors, and those created by volcanoes.
When Apollo 16 did finally make its trip to the Moon, Commander John Young held up a moon rock at one point, and radioed back to Houston, saying, Quote: "This looks like Sudbury rock."
What is also significant about the astronauts visiting Sudbury, is that Apollo 17 Commander Gene Cernan was present. He would be the 12th and last man to walk on the moon.
But Apollo missions 16 and 17 are a long way off, as we pick up part two of our story of Selling The Moon.
NASA moves from Mercury to its second space program, called Gemini, which then paves the way for Project Apollo.
The road from Apollo 1 to the Apollo 11 moon landing is a remarkable tale of courage, tragedy, breakthrough technology and a massive amount of marketing and PR to keep the entire enterprise rolling.
And NASA achieved it all by borrowing a page from Madison Avenue.
It simply promised the moon…
On March 18th, 1965, the Soviets stunned the world yet again when Cosmonaut Alexey Leonov performed the first spacewalk outside his spacecraft.
Five days later, NASA launched its first manned flight of the new Gemini space program.
Gemini was the intermediate step between Mercury and Apollo. It was given the Latin name for "twins" because the new space capsules, designed by Canadian Jim Chamberlin, had seats for two astronauts.
There were twelve Gemini flights in total, each designed to break new ground, mission-by-mission – like a wagon train to the Moon.
As it turned out, Gemini made extraordinary progress.
NASA celebrated those successes with an increased number of documentaries, consistently persuading the public on the need for expensive space missions:
The momentum of the Gemini achievements led many at the space agency to wonder if they just might get to the Moon quicker than anticipated.
With great pride, Project Apollo was announced, and the Apollo I astronauts were named. The third and final space program that would take man to the moon was now officially underway.
The NASA marketing machine started to beat the drum louder, increasing its output of press releases and educational materials. Astronauts were sent out on speaking tours with more frequency – not just in major U.S. cities, but world capitals as well.
Then, as the Apollo I crew engaged in a routine launch rehearsal test on January 27th, 1967, tragedy struck:
The accident had a dramatic effect on the Apollo mission, suspending all launches for an entire year.
Many blamed the rush to meet Kennedy's deadline. NASA managers suddenly became increasingly cautious at the exact moment they needed to take bigger risks.
The Apollo marketing programs were also halted. The tragedy resulted in over 1,340 design changes. Apollo missions 2 through 6 were dedicated to extensive unmanned tests.
Then, on October 11th, 1968, Apollo 7 launched into space.
Apollo 7 was the first three-person flight in NASA history, completing the mission Apollo 1 could not.
It was the first flight to broadcast live transmissions from inside the capsule. They showed the astronauts moving in a weightless environment, relaxed and having fun.
Those images would set the tone for all future Apollo transmissions, and were among some of the most powerful images in NASA's ongoing marketing and public relations activities.
Interesting to note that cameras almost didn't make the Apollo 7 flight. All three astronauts were against them, saying they were an unnecessary abstraction that used up precious resources.
Yet, those cameras would transform the Apollo missions.
As authors David Scott and Richard Jurek say in their beautifully written, and stunning book, entitled Marketing The Moon, those images of Earth, floating in the blackness of space, provoked profound personal and spiritual emotions in people. Humans never thought of their home the same way again.
The optimism of Apollo 7 kicked the NASA marketing machine into high gear. By that time, the command centre had moved from Cape Canaveral in Florida to the Manned Space Centre in Houston.
It became a national attraction by 1968, drawing over 800,000 visitors, compared to the 500,000 people who visited the Grand Canyon that year.
The renewed energy of the Space Program encouraged marketers to jumped on the Apollo bandwagon.
If a product had any tie-in with the missions, no matter how tenuous, it happily advertised the fact.
Like a product I remember eating, called Pillsbury's Space Food Sticks:
Almost every new product with a link to the Apollo program advertised itself as a space-age innovation:
And if a brand didn't have a connection to the space program, it just linked itself to the mission any way it could:
But perhaps the greatest amount of advertising done during the space race years was aimed at kids:
Hasbro's GI Joe Astronaut:
Post Count Off Cereal:
Vintage Ideal Astro Base Space Toys:
There was even Astronaut Barbie:
NASA encouraged the advertising, even supplying photographs to marketers to use in their ads – which is interesting, considering those photos were paid for with taxpayer dollars. NASA's only stipulation – no direct endorsements.
One of the most remembered advertisers from that era was orange powdered drink Tang.
It was part of the astronauts' dehydrated food supply, and Tang was quick to leverage that fact in its advertising.
The commercials were so memorable that many believe, to this day, that Tang was developed for space exploration. In fact, it was first marketed in 1959, and had poor sales until astronauts started consuming it.
Del Monte, Stouffer's and General Foods created commercials telling the public they had developed the frozen foods chosen by NASA to keep the astronauts healthy during missions.
NASA had decided the astronauts would all wear Omega watches, after all other timepieces had shattered under extreme decompression. It was a gift from heaven for Omega's marketing.
RCA, the contractor for Apollo 7's camera, ran ads for its new colour television sets, persuading consumers to choose the brand chosen by NASA.
All this brand marketing offered a symbiotic uptick for NASA.
Where the space agency fell short in its marketing and public relations budgets, America's largest corporations were only too happy to pick up the slack. Giving the space program millions of dollars of free media promotion.
Meanwhile, NASA continued its own marketing strategies. It contracted Norman Rockwell to depict the moment of man's first step on the lunar surface. The dramatic painting ran as a double-page spread in Look Magazine, and was reproduced all over the nation.
The choice was inspired, because no other 20th century painter defined American culture like Rockwell. By painting the impending moon landing, Rockwell portrayed the moment as American as baseball and apple pie.
Apollo 8 was the first mission to break free of Earth's orbit and travel the 250,000 miles to the moon.
In a historic moment, on Christmas Eve in 1968, maybe the most tumultuous year for America in that decade – with rioting, the Vietnam war escalating and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy occurring within 9 weeks of each other - the crew of Apollo 8 transmitted an image of the moon, and took turns reading the first ten verses from the book of Genesis:
It was a contentious moment for some, saying the religious reading during a secular mission, funded by American taxpayers, was highly inappropriate.
But polls showed the American public overwhelmingly supported the readings - no doubt remembering Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's statement that, while up in space, he saw no evidence of God.
Apollo 8 was a major turning point as America dramatically pulled away from the Soviets in the race to the moon.
As authors Scott and Jurek state, it was a marketing and public relations triumph.
The Apollo success also triggered an onslaught of business-to-business advertising. Marketers like Union Carbide and Rockwell advertised their NASA connections to other companies, hoping to attract more contracting work.
Meanwhile, companies like Ratheon and Boeing advertised their NASA contracts in publications read by Department of Defence officials. The subtext being, "If NASA trusts us, you can trust us to build your next military system."
The mission for Apollo 9 was to perform the first flight test of the lunar module. The crew also tested a special lunar camera that could function in the extreme conditions of the Moon's surface.
Apollo 10 was a final dress rehearsal for the Moon landing. All systems were used and checked, the Lunar module was detached and flown separately from the command module, and docking was successfully completed.
Short of actually landing on the Moon, Apollo 10 showed that all systems were A-OK to go, and it provided images from the first colour camera on a space mission, giving NASA powerful images to use in its marketing.
So striking were those images, that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences presented the crews of Apollo 7,8,9 and 10 with a special Emmy Award.
Then, just one month before its scheduled launch, it was announced that Apollo 11 would be the mission that would attempt to land on the Moon. The marketing of the space mission was about to reach its apex.
NASA was finally ready to deliver on John F. Kennedy's promise.
All three Apollo 11 astronauts were Gemini veterans. Commander Neil Armstrong was a test pilot who had flown over 200 different kinds of aircraft.
Buzz Aldrin, whose mother's maiden name was Moon, got his nickname from his little sister, who pronounced "brother" as "buzzer." His parents shortened it, and it stuck.
Michael Collins had made a spacewalk on Gemini 10, and would pilot the Apollo 11 command module when Armstrong and Aldrin were on the Moon.
Collins would call his Apollo cabin mates, "amiable strangers." They didn't gel or hang out like other Apollo crews, yet they were still able to do their jobs with crisp efficiency.
But to the world, they were presented as the heroic Apollo 11 team that would change history.
For the three television networks, the Apollo missions provided the most spectacular shows anyone had ever seen.
This was important to the networks on several levels. First, space coverage attracted big audiences. Second, the biggest audiences attracted the most advertising dollars.
With 94% of the North America watching, each of the networks covered the Apollo moon landing in their own unique way.
ABC had the lowest ratings, and its broadcast was the most overtly commercial. When you watch their reports, they actually had a TANG logo right there on their news desk.
For the bulk of the 60s, NBC news was the ratings leader, with the Huntley-Brinkley Report. But Huntley and Brinkley were not space fans, and apparently made little effort to immerse themselves in mission details. It would prove a costly mistake.
Legendary CBS anchorman, Walter Cronkite, on the other hand, was an unabashed space fan. He had covered every space mission, and pushed CBS to offer the most extensive Apollo coverage possible.
Cronkite's enthusiasm for the Moon landing had a profound effect – because CBS would eventually overtake NBC to become the nations #1 news program.
When the normally composed Cronkite was briefly speechless as the Apollo II Lunar Module finally touched down on the moon, so was the viewing public:
From the early days of the Mercury missions, through the Gemini flights, all leading to Armstrong's lunar footprint – John F. Kennedy's goal was realized inside his stated time-frame, 5 months short of 1970.
It was through tremendous technical innovation and massive marketing & PR campaigns that NASA had achieved the near impossible.
It had delivered the moon.
Astronaut Gene Cernan, who had walked the Sudbury basin and left the last footprints on the moon, said, "We were marketing the United States of America."
No truer words were spoken.
Kennedy sold it to Congress back in 1961, saying space leadership was world leadership. And by 1970, there was little doubt America was the world's superpower.
It's interesting to note that throughout the tumultuous 60s, as costs kept mounting, NASA was able to keep fanning the flames of taxpayer and congressional support – with continuous marketing and public relations. The same way it encouraged brands to hitch their wagons to space ingenuity and achievement.
But the moon landing was the finish line for the space race. With the exception of the drama of Apollo 13, the crowds and press coverage dwindled. Even President Nixon reportedly slept through the launch of Apollo 15.
Yet to this day, the concept of a "moonshot" is still inspiring. Google even has a secret division called GoogleX that is dedicated to making major technological advancements. They call the projects "moonshots."
On December 5th, 2014, NASA launched Orion – the deep space program that will lead a wagon train to Mars.
It could cost taxpayers as much as $500 billion dollars.
But with persuasive marketing, that amount may not seem so out of this world…
…when you're under the influence.
Research books for this episode included:
"The Making Of A Moon" by Arthur C. Clarke
"Selling The Moon" by James L. Kauffman.
"Marketing the Moon" by David Meerman Scott & Richard Jurek
"The Astronaut Wives Club" by Lily Koppell