Robots vs Humans - Who Should Explore Space?; The Future of Space Exploration; Scientific American Presents; by Slakey, Spudis; 7 Page(s)
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has a difficult task. It must convince U.S. taxpayers that space science is worth $13.6 billion a year. To achieve this goal, the agency conducts an extensive public-relations effort that is similar to the marketing campaigns of America's biggest corporations. NASA has learned a valuable lesson about marketing in the 1990s: to promote its programs, it must provide entertaining visuals and stories with compelling human characters. For this reason, NASA issues a steady stream of press releases and images from its human spaceflight program.
Every launch of the space shuttle is a media event. NASA presents its astronauts as ready-made heroes, even when their accomplishments in space are no longer groundbreaking. Perhaps the best example of NASA's public-relations prowess was the participation of John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth, in shuttle mission STS-95 last year. Glenn's return to space at the age of 77 made STS-95 the most avidly followed mission since the Apollo moon landings. NASA claimed that Glenn went up for science-he served as a guinea pig in various medical experiments-but it was clear that the main benefit of Glenn's space shuttle ride was publicity, not scientific discovery.