90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW

Apollo Lunar Program A Big Marketing Success, Book Says

 In this 1969 file photo, astronauts Edwin E. Aldrin and Neil Armstrong rehearse tasks they will perform on the moon after landing in July 1969 during the Apollo 11 mission.  (AP)

In this 1969 file photo, astronauts Edwin E. Aldrin and Neil Armstrong rehearse tasks they will perform on the moon after landing in July 1969 during the Apollo 11 mission. (AP)

On July 20, 1969, eight years after President John F. Kennedy pledged to land a man on the moon and return him safely to earthly, two astronauts from Apollo 11 guided their lunar lander on to the moon’s surface.

Six hundred million people around the world — including just about every American household with a TV — watched the event live and heard the crackle of astronaut Neil Armstrong’s voice reporting back to Mission Control in Houston.

It was the culmination of more than a decade of intense scientific and technological groundwork that finally put a man on the moon. But an often overlooked component of the American space race was the marketing it took to educate the public, capture their attention and keep public money flowing into NASA’s coffers.

A new book argues the Apollo lunar program was one of the most successful marketing campaigns and public relations campaigns in history.

Guest

David Meerman Scott, co-author of “Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program.” He tweets at @dmscott.

Highlights

On NASA’s choice to make this project public:
David Meerman Scott: “It was important because we were able to share it with the American people, and NASA was able to share what was happening with the people who funded the program. And I would contrast that with two things that were completely the opposite. One was the Russian program. And the Russian program — I mean — you didn’t hear anything until they landed and it was successful. And the other was the American military, which is where a lot of the people came from in the original part of the space program and particularly in the Mercury and Gemini programs. And for a lot of people who were arguing that we should do what we do with military — only talk about something when there’s so-called ‘fire in the tail,’ or the rocket is actually going up in the air, but fortunately we made the entire program open so that we could see all the good things — and a few of the bad things as well.”

On the technological feat of broadcasting live TV on the moon:
DMS: “It was huge. I mean, the audaciousness of the project in general is just crazy. To land people on the surface of the moon using 1969 technology or, when they started, early 1960s technology? Amazing! But then you had to have a camera that was small — that was basically the size of a bread box — and lightweight because getting some poundage to the surface of the moon was hugely expensive from the perspective of the technology required to get it there, the fuel required to get it there. And, in fact, the engineers hated the idea of having to build the idea of a camera in there.”

On how we learned, as Americans, about the astronauts:
DMS: “What was really clever by the NASA public affairs people was that they realized that the public was going to be demanding of the time of the astronauts to learn all about them, not just the space travel aspect of what they were doing, but also their personal lives. Today it’s just granted that you get to learn the personal lives of celebrities but back then it wasn’t so granted. So, they came up with an arrangement with life magazine to allow them exclusive access to the astronauts’ personal story. So that means things like where do they go to church and what does their house look like and invited them into their homes, information about their families, their children, their wives and so on. And they were granted that exclusivity which allowed the astronauts to be able to have their personal time be their personal time. Otherwise, they would have reporters from publications from all over the world jumping their fence trying to get an exclusive, interviewing their kids. And this stuff was actually happening until that contract was organized. However, on the professional side, getting to the moon, the technology, what the astronauts are doing for their professional lives, that was all fair game. It was just that personal story that was exclusive to Life, and that was a great decision. They actually went all the way to President Kennedy to get that decision made.”

On NASA’s budget then compared to NASA’s budget now:
DMS: “It’s much, much larger. NASA’s budget is way less than 1 percent today so it’s a huge, huge difference. To be able to put it in perspective, it’s just something like 10 times the number that NASA has today. And NASA’s doing good work in robotics. What we’re doing on Mars is really interesting, but we don’t have the budget or, I don’t think, the national commitment, to do huge audacious projects around human space travel.”

On the help NASA got from contractors with marketing:
DMS: “There’s an interesting aspect here, because NASA’s public affairs department was tiny. They had very few people who were devoted to public affairs, but every single one of thousands of contractors had marketing and public relations people that worked for them. So when you’re talking about IBM and Raytheon and Boeing and McDonnell Douglas and Grumman and all these companies building spacecraft and spacecraft parts — and then you had consumer products that were carried into space, like Omega watches and Tang and Sony tape recorders, every single one of those companies wanted to be associated with this amazing Apollo program, especially the contractors who were also building weapons of war for the Vietnam war. I mean, imagine if you’re building missiles and you’re also building the components of the Apollo program — you want to get the idea that we’re building these spacecrafts, aren’t we a great company, and maybe kind of ignore that other part. But we wouldn’t have made it to the moon without contractors, obviously, but we wouldn’t have made it without contractors marketing muscle either because NASA represented something like less than 10 percent of the marketing and PR people compared to all of the other ones that the contractors were putting behind it which was essential for the success of the program.”

More

Many companies leveraged their connections with NASA, including, Tang. 

Here’s video of the Apollo 11 launch. 


Other stories from this show:

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • TJtruthandjustice

    Apollo cost $150 billion, adjusted for inflation. The lunar rover, an electric buggy that traveled eight miles an hour, cost nearly a quarter of a billion (with a “B”) dollars. Selling a project with such a monstrously obscene price tag certainly required an awful lot of spin, especially at a time of both the war in Vietnam and the “war on poverty.”

    I fully realize that overwhelming majority of mainstream media reporters will reflexively scoff at the possibility that the whole thing may have been faked, and even if they secretly harbor doubts, they will never publicly express these for fear of being labeled “mentally unfit” (also a favorite control technique in the old USSR) and destroying their careers. Nevertheless, there is in fact a valid case to be made that fraud was indeed committed, that the U.S. did not possess the technology to escape lower earth orbit in 1969 and that fakery was justified on the basis of the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

    Simply put, it would have been difficult, but possible, to fake Apollo (especially with a $150 billion budget). It would have been virtually impossible, at the time anyway, to do it for real. The fact that there were zero fatalities over the seven Apollo lunar missions and that six of the seven missions successfully touched down on the lunar surface and returned safely to earth further defies credulity.

    Despite the official narrative recounted today, Apollo was in fact rife with delays, problems and cost overruns from the start. Astronaut Gus Grissom, the second American to fly into space, was outspoken in his criticisms of Apollo and the main Apollo contractor, North American Aviation, so much so that at one point, Grissom took a large lemon and hung it around the space capsule as the press looked on. He also suggested publicly that the project could never be accomplished on time. “`Pretty slim’ was the way [Grissom] put his Apollo’s chances of meeting its mission requirements,” according to the Associated Press.

    Grissom was burned alive along with two other astronauts in an Apollo 1 training exercise in 1967. His family is on record saying they are convinced he was murdered. Even before Apollo 1, the outspoken astronaut had received death threats and had been put under Secret Service protection. His family speculates that the death threats came from within NASA itself as a result of Grissom’s unyielding criticisms of the Apollo program.

    Most definitely not a “gee wiz, isn’t science neat!” moment for the NASA PR spin machine.

Hosts Meghna Chakrabarti and Anthony Brooks introduce us to newsmakers, big thinkers and artists and bring us stories of relevance to Bostonians here and around the region. Live every weekday at 3.

  • Listen: Weekdays, 3 p.m. on 90.9 FM
  • Live Call-In: (800) 423-TALK
  • Listener Voicemail: (617) 358-0607
Most Popular
This site is best viewed with: Firefox | Internet Explorer 9 | Chrome | Safari