Capricorn One, The Sequel - InformationWeek

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Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
7/17/2009
08:30 AM
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Capricorn One, The Sequel

NASA has announced that it has restored footage of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and I'm just waiting for the conspiracy nutcases to go to town with it. I wonder if the resulting noise might be a benefit to NASA's marketing?

NASA has announced that it has restored footage of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and I'm just waiting for the conspiracy nutcases to go to town with it. I wonder if the resulting noise might be a benefit to NASA's marketing?There's a lot for the doubters to work with, as the government also admitted for the first time that it had inadvertently erased the original tapes so that they could be reused. Yup. Recordings of one of the biggest moments in all of human history were treated like a cassette tape of a forgettable Grateful Dead concert. Somebody forgot to depress the plastic "save" tab on the case.

So the restored movies have been patched together from four fuzzy copies, ranging from TV news footage (already compressed 40%+ for broadcast) to kinescopes (worse, since they're movies shot from TV monitors). Expert Hollywood special effects wizards had to fix things, using the same technology they used to "fix" explosions and giant monsters in the Indiana Jones movies.

Already, conspiracy theorists have challenged the far better footage from subsequent missions: astronaut movement proves that they're being dangled by wires, and not enjoying the Moon's low gravity; the flag planted on the surface waves when there's no air to move it; background stars are missing, and the shadows are all wrong; spotlights and a soda pop bottle have been sighted. The fundamental suspicion is that the entire shebang was faked, a la the mission to Mars in the 1978 movie "Capricorn One."

A good controversy helps sell tickets, as any Hollywood publicist will tell you. There's the potential that this archival footage will prompt more interest than the live feeds coming from the astronauts currently in orbit; touching the Moon for the first time is inherently more compelling than witnessing astronauts trying to fix the back porch, or clean the array, or whatever it is they're doing at the ISS.

Shouldn't NASA go with it?

For instance, the restored movies reveal a reflection in Neil Armstrong's visor. A reflection of what? Why not have a contest, and encourage people to try to figure it out? How about challenging conspiracy theorists (or anybody with a camera and a parents' basement) to shoot their own versions of the newly-minted scenes, and then post the UGC on You Tube? What about issuing a call for people to shoot current space footage on their TVs, and get them trying to prove the veracity of what they capture (or purposefully invent wild backstories and explanations)?

Are there levels of social media interaction and knowledge sharing that NASA could create that would help it communicate what's going to happen with future programs (i.e. how does it get people to believe, and then follow, a real manned mission to Mars someday)?

It would all be quite nutty, of course, but the crazies are going to have a field day anyway. A smart strategy for NASA's brand might be to channel the interest to its advantage?

Jonathan Salem Baskin writes the Dim Bulb blog and is the author of Branding Only Works On Cattle.

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