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NASA: The Next Corporate Horizon?

By Mike Stankiewicz

The next time Americans watch a spacecraft take off to explore Mars, the moon or the outer edges of our solar system, they might see a rocket covered in beer company logos if the Trump administration gets its way.

In August, Jim Bridenstine, administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and a Trump appointee, said he was forming a committee to look into whether the agency should sell naming rights and advertising space to corporations for government spacecraft and allow astronauts to appear in commercials.

Bridenstine added that the committee would be led by a high-level official at Maxar Technologies, a private space technology company, which likely would favor a commercialized space agency. At press time, the agency had not officially proposed any specific changes to commercial rights within NASA.

NASA has struggled financially in recent years due to steady budget cuts. President Barack Obama canned a manned mission to Mars, and the agency already has outsourced some programs to independent companies. Kristen Strader, campaign coordinator for Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert program, said that corporations now hope to capitalize on NASA’s financial challenges to associate with NASA’s image on the cheap.

“Allowing visible corporate recognition on NASA property would effectively act as an implied endorsement by NASA of that specific brand,” said Strader. “From the advertisers’ point of view, the entire purpose of securing a naming right partnership is to affiliate their brand with the positive profile of NASA.”

A former astronaut also strongly condemned Bridenstine’s idea, contending that slapping logos on rockets and urging astronauts to act as brand endorsers would be one giant leap too far.

“NASA is a shining example of American ingenuity, and aspiration of millions of young men and women,” said Dr. Taylor Wang, a former NASA space explorer and the first person of Chinese descent to go to space. “Selling it for a few dollars cheapens the dreams of those innocent minds.”

In response to Bridenstine’s announcement, Public Citizen, along with Care2, launched a petition in December demanding that the agency remain government-funded.

As of press time, the petition had close to 20,000 signatures.

“NASA belongs to all of us,” Strader said. “It should continue to pioneer a future that educates and inspires, not one in which our shared public resources promote values of consumption and brand loyalty.”