NASA image of the moon/Apollo 11

Mars Mission 1, brought to you by Coca-Cola? Maybe, as NASA considers corporate sponsorships

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Sep 11, 2018

SpaceX may not be the lone acknowledgment the private sector gives to the vastness of space, especially if NASA moves ahead with its proposed plan for new revenue streams. Would-be interplanetary travelers may find themselves upon a spacecraft plastered with, say, the GEICO cavemen on the side, admonishing aliens for not sparing 15 minutes for their car insurance. One of the first communications we may bring to space is advertisements.

According to the Washington Post, the U.S. space agency is considering “boosting its brand” by putting the names of spacecraft on the market for corporate sponsorship. Astronauts too will be able to cash in on this new plan, with the new ability to appear in commercials or on Wheaties boxes.

NASA image of Orion spacecraft

The Orion crew module. Credit: 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,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said. “I'd like to see, maybe one day, NASA astronauts on the cover of a cereal box, embedded into the American culture."

Bridenstine is leading this crusade and recently considered the question of leapfrogging government regulations at a meeting. Former astronaut Scott Kelly said this plan “would be a dramatic shift from the rules prohibiting government officials from using their public office for private gain.” The plan to earn corporate bucks — to increase the brand recognizability of both the agency and individual astronauts — is unprecedented at the space agency, which — to this point — even chooses not to call its onboard M&Ms by name.

“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.”

This doesn’t come from greed, but the drying up of funds from our own government. With NASA already hurting for cash as its goals are altered by the current administration and that very administration angling to deeply reduce or ax the agency’s funding (at least, for the ISS -- to start), NASA’s going to need help to keep its projects working. Some already use the private sector, but not like this. Some fear that reaching out to corporations may spur the government to cut funding even more, but the revenue potential is certainly alluring even despite this danger.

With collaborations on films like First Man, T-shirts of its famous logo, and the ever-encroaching reality of space tourism, NASA isn’t hurting for income streams — they just have to decide it’s in their ethical purview. But science fans likely feel the same trepidation as former astronauts like Michael Lopez-Alegria, who compared the possible change to “nails on a chalkboard.” What do you think? Would you want your kids growing up wanting to be Comcast cosmonauts?