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Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program

  • Published
Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program by David Meerman Scott and Richard Jurek. MIT Press, 2014, 144 pp.

The striking image on the cover of Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program is of the moon wrapped in the American flag. In the style of modernist propaganda bordering on postmodernist parody, Old Glory is draped over half of the lunar disc, dwarfing a tiny Apollo lunar module sitting on an uncovered portion of the gray surface. One might expect from this illustration, actually taken from Philco-Ford's Apollo-era promotional material, that the book's authors would present a cynical view of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), industry, and the media's "selling" of the program that won the space race in 1969 by landing humans on the moon for the first time. However, this is not a history written by cynics but by admirers and true believers in the cause.

Authors David Meerman Scott and Richard Jurek are professional marketers who also happen to be space enthusiasts. Their passion and expertise make Marketing the Moon a worthwhile and entertaining read. According to their biographies, Scott "is thought to be the only person in the world with a lunar module descent engine thrust chamber in his living room," and Jurek claims "the world's largest collection of $2 bills that have flown in space." They describe the Apollo program, which arose from President Kennedy's 1961 challenge for the United States to land astronauts on the moon before the end of that decade, as "the largest, and we believe the most important, marketing and public relations case study in history" (p. ix).

Scott and Jurek recount how an unprecedented--and not since repeated--level of cooperation among the US government, private contractors, and the media sustained a successful campaign to promote American space exploration throughout NASA's Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo manned-spaceflight programs. Interestingly, the marketing of these accomplishments was by no means a fully coordinated effort from the top down, given that NASA's public relations (PR) arm was never sufficiently staffed or equipped to handle the public's vast demand for information. Instead, it is revealed that a successful PR campaign emerged organically, largely as the result of key decisions by NASA officials favoring openness and objectivity in the dissemination of information by government representatives. The civilian space agency's marketing strategy, which stood in stark contrast to the secrecy and propaganda surrounding the Soviet Union's space endeavors, also encountered resistance from the Cold War--era US military establishment that had exercised much greater control of information about space feats before NASA's founding in 1958. Meanwhile, the myriad private companies contributing technologies to space program contracts sought to sell other products to both the government and the masses through creative Apollo-themed advertising campaigns and elaborate lunar-mission press kits. Completing the triad were the overwhelmingly supportive media outlets and individual reporters hoping to deliver the definitive account of what most of them perceived as the story of a lifetime.

Just as the original story of the moon landings was conveyed through visuals, so do Scott and Jurek share the marketing history by including photographs on practically every page. Yet, Marketing the Moon is much more than a coffee-table book. It offers plenty of narrative with historical substance, relying on thoroughly cited source material including the authors' personal interviews with astronauts and other NASA and industry personnel from the Apollo era. The PR campaign surrounding the Apollo program is described as evolving in the context of the political, technological, and social changes that defined the 1960s.

A central theme of Scott and Jurek's work is that the marketing of America's lunar program would ultimately fall victim to its own success. In a compelling early chapter, the authors attribute this success to the American public's fascination with depictions of space travel from science fiction literature as well as Hollywood productions throughout the early twentieth century. These portrayals were themselves informed by the space voyages imagined in nineteenth-century literature, most notably by Jules Verne in From the Earth to the Moon. After the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957, the US government, industry, and media had a rich space tradition to tap into as they promoted America's goals for the decade to come. Yet, exciting as it was for half a billion people worldwide to witness Verne's dream realized live on television when astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon in 1969, actual space travel could never quite compete with the fantasy that inspired it.

The authors note the "growing sense of apathy about the manned lunar program as the general public became aware that the realities of spaceflight differed greatly from the romanticized versions envisioned in magazines, books, and on cinema screens" (p. 5). This observation is crucial, considering that the marketing of America's missions to the moon was arguably the most important aspect of the entire undertaking. At the height of a Cold War rooted in competing ideologies, America's eventual triumph in the space race, as well as its transparency in broadcasting to a global audience both its successes and failures along the way, showcased the superiority of free societies over their totalitarian counterparts. Not surprisingly, once the Apollo 11 mission fulfilled President Kennedy's challenge, a sharp decline occurred in media coverage, public interest, and financial support pertaining to human exploration of the moon. Appropriately, the book's foreword is written by Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan, who in 1972 became the last man to walk on the moon. The planned Apollo 18, 19, and 20 missions were canceled as Americans shifted their attention back to earthly matters.

Marketing the Moon delivers an intriguing study of the intersections among government, industry, and the press. Undoubtedly, this topic is relevant to anyone in the military profession. Furthermore, Scott and Jurek's description of the media's reporting on the Apollo program should appeal to a younger audience of space buffs who did not have the chance to experience the moon landings in real time. The book even offers a fresh, behind-the-scenes perspective for those who lived through that significant period in history.

Maj Christopher D. Geisel, USAF, PhD
Air Force Institute of Technology Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio

The views expressed in the book review are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense.
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