I Wish The NASA Brand Wasn't Worthless - InformationWeek

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Commentary
6/18/2009
10:44 AM
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I Wish The NASA Brand Wasn't Worthless

Did you know that NASA plans to launch two unmanned probes to the moon today, in preparation for the return of astronauts to its surface in a decade or so? Yup, I didn't either. How did the idea of exploring space get so uninteresting and irrelevant?

Did you know that NASA plans to launch two unmanned probes to the moon today, in preparation for the return of astronauts to its surface in a decade or so? Yup, I didn't either. How did the idea of exploring space get so uninteresting and irrelevant?I think it's safe to say that as a reader at this site, you're more likely than others to have watched Star Trek, or some other sci-fi franchise. Because you are into technology, you probably get the power of the space exploration "thing," whether as science, adventure, or a lame excuse for adoring alien babitude.

President Kennedy effectively nationalized these merits when he tasked NASA with landing Americans on the moon in the 1960s, and a generation of us grew up building the technology that enabled and spun-off from the effort. Then, in 1972, we gave up on the moon, having done everything there, from hot rod wheelies to shanked golf swings. The space thing lost its luster. NASA allowed itself to become another government agency in constant search of funds and a purpose, usually in that order.

In other words, it got about as exciting as the Department of Agriculture.

Frankly, this makes me angry.

Space exploration should inspire people; it's at once really "techie" and yet rich with emotion and philosophy. It is a reality that far exceeds the ersatz worlds of even the best video games. Yet few people are aware that there are Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft quietly traversing the distances toward solar systems beyond ours, or that the Hubble orbiting telescope lets us see back in time to just after the Universe popped into existence. This is profound stuff, not to mention all the innovation that spins into and out of these efforts.

What do we get in the media? At best, we witness shuttle missions covered like daily commuter traffic reports. Or we hear nothing at all.

FYI, today's launches are the first we've sent toward the moon in a decade, and they're going to orbit for a bit before smashing into the surface, so we can check for water. I guess the idea is that future moon colonists will need it, along with other local resources, to stay alive. You didn't know that we were sending people back there in a bit? Don't worry; neither does anybody else.

Where's the Discovery Channel special timed for the launch (or moon encouters)? Why aren't engineers tweeting about their innermost feelings? Couldn't NASA find a corporate sponsor to use the mission for a marketing campaign (is it really worse than "Land of the Lost" as a promotional tie-in)? Where's the hip-hop remix of a new song about going to the moon (or a contest among composers)?

Don't educate us...get us excited about the science, the adventure, and the babes. Unfortunately, the NASA brand is worthless on this score.

Oh yeah, we're going back to the moon today. Budget has been expended before it expired. Maybe it'll help with next year's appropriations. Let's hope there isn't a problem.

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

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