NASA considers selling naming rights for rockets to brands

September 11, 2018

As if NASA doesn’t already have a  “high enough profile,” the U.S. space agency is reportedly looking into selling naming rights to spacecraft and allowing astronauts to appear in advertisements for brands—Jim Lovell on a box of Wheaties?—as a move to boost public awareness, The Washington Post reported on September 10.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, whom President Trump appointed to the post in April, announced at an August 29 NASA Advisory Council Meeting that he was forming a committee to look into the issue.

Bridenstine said at the meeting that having astronauts appear on cereal boxes, like professional athletes do, would inspire kids and help the agency become “embedded into the American culture.”

“I’d like to see kids growing up, instead of maybe wanting to be like a professional sports star, I’d like to see them grow up wanting to be a NASA astronaut, or a NASA scientist,” he said.

“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, according to the Post. “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.”

Critics of the plan, including former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, argue that allowing brands to purchase ad space on rockets could present ethics conflicts for the agency.

Kelly told the Post that the move “would be a dramatic shift from the rules prohibiting government officials from using their public office for private gain.”

A recent study from the federally funded Washington, DC-based Science and Technology Policy Institute found that selling naming and branding rights could yield significant revenue for NASA.

The proposal comes at a time when NASA is seeing a boost in its cultural popularity, with an increased interest in the possibility of space tourism and Hollywood movies highlighting the agency. A NASA multimedia liaison told the Post that requests to use the agency’s logo on products and apparel have skyrocketed.

The Trump administration also has discussed a desire to cut off government funding for the International Space Station and move toward privatizing the project in the coming years.

Research contact: christian.davenport@washpost.com