While President Trump proposes a Space Force, NASA is proposing space sponsorships. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine recently announced the formation of an advisory committee to explore the possibility of selling naming rights to rockets and other spacecraft, plus allowing astronauts to appear in commercials and endorse products the way pro athletes do. Bridenstine explained that the idea is to offset the massive costs of the agency's ambitious agenda, but also to market NASA and its employees to the public.
Bridenstine acknowledged that the idea may or may not be feasible, but he wants to examine whether it could work. Marketing expert Cleve Tuttel with the Houston-based Woreman Design branding agency believes NASA should tread very carefully, as this could create ethical questions. "If you're receiving money from a corporate entity, then aside from just having their name on the side of a rocket, what other influences are they getting for their money, much like campaign funding," he says. "I think it raises a lot of questions...you have to find out what is the brand's interest in this, and what is NASA's interest."
Tuttel also questions the effectiveness of naming rights for rockets, since they aren't as visible as sports stadiums like Minute Maid Park. "(A rocket) is not in front of hundreds of thousands of people for them to view," he says. "So I don't know what the value would be for a large brand to want to endorse that."
Aside from ethical questions, there is the issue of what "space branding" would mean to NASA's overall image. "I've always viewed NASA as sort of apolitical," says Tuttel. "That it should be something that is for the betterment of a greater group of people, rather than just a few particular brands."