NASA is mulling on selling naming rights to rockets and spacecraft, and allowing astronauts to appear in advertisements in a bid to boost the public profile of the U.S. space agency, the Washington Post has reported.
NASA has avoided endorsing any product or company in the past, but during a recent advisory council meeting, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine revealed that he would set up a committee that will look into what he called “provocative questions” of turning rockets into corporate billboards.
The idea is much like how NASCAR advertising works. The cars are covered in stickers and logos promoting different brands. Organizations and companies pay millions of dollars per year to have their logos on race cars.
“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.”
Bridenstine also said that astronauts should not only be more accessible to journalists. They should also able to participate in marketing opportunities to boost NASA’s brand.
He said that having astronauts appear on cereal boxes, much like celebrity athletes, may help inspire kids to grow up wanting to be a NASA scientist or astronaut, and help embed NASA into the American culture.
Officials said that nothing has yet been decided, but if the idea pushes through, it could mark a giant cultural leap for NASA and present ethical conflict for the agency.
As early as now, NASA experts have already raised their skepticism over the idea of selling naming rights and having astronauts appear in commercials.
Former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent nearly a year in the International Space Station, said that this would be a dramatic shift from the rules that prohibit government officials from using their public office for personal gain.
Michael Lopez-Alegria, also a former NASA astronaut, said that getting funding from the private sector may also compromise NASA’s funding. If Congress sees that NASA is getting funding from the private sector, it is possible it would decide not to pay for the space agency anymore.
Scott Amey, general counsel for the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, commented that the government needs to focus entirely on what is important for the public, and not on private gain.