The Space Reviewin association with SpaceNews

Jeff Krukin
Krukin, speaking at the Return to the Moon conference, argued for using better messages to communicate the benefits of space development to the public. (credit: J. Foust)

Marketing space to the general public

For decades, the space community has spent too much time talking—and often arguing—with itself about how and why space should be explored. You know what I mean: Moon vs. Mars, human vs. robotic, single-stage vs. multi-stage vehicles, and so on.

We just love this stuff! We eat it, drink it, and breathe it every day. But after decades of various forms of space advocacy, how many neutral or anti-space people have we enrolled in our vision? How many of these people care in their hearts about space as we do? If they cared, they wouldn’t be neutral or anti-space, and there would be a space movement as organized and powerful as the environmental movement. If they cared, we wouldn’t need to market space as a journey that will inspire them… because they’d already be so inspired as to be demanding action!

Instead, they fight against our tired and dated pro-space arguments with their tired and dated anti-space arguments, such as:

  • We need to solve our problems here first
  • Space is too dangerous and expensive
  • Space is a pristine environment and humans will only ruin it
  • No nuclear power in space
  • No property ownership in space

Why has this happened, and what must we understand to effectively market space to the general public?

Ineffective communication

For quite some time, and especially since the President’s January space speech, the focus has been on the Moon and Mars, which immediately provides easy targets for those opposed to massive government space expenditures. Don’t get me wrong: the Moon and Mars are wonderful if they are what matters most in your life. However, we must remember that for most people this isn’t even close to what matters most. Sure, they’re interested, but space doesn’t define their lives as it does ours. We forget this at our own peril. So how do we bring space closer to home, make it more down to Earth for these people?

We’ve been marketing space by talking about technologies, missions, programs, and government policies, and using bland warm and fuzzy slogans, as if these are the motivators for human activity in space. They are not.

By emphasizing something that has been missing almost entirely from the national space debate outside the space community: a commercial space transportation infrastructure, which is required to enable and sustain all our space goals. Regardless of the destination, this is the best way to proceed if we want to remain wherever we go. This can be marketed to the general public as a natural extension of commercial aviation, leading to discussions of near-Earth space activity that is more desirable and sensible to people who otherwise care little about space. If people don’t care about shuttle flights, the space station, Moon bases, and Mars missions, then we better give them something else that uses space in a meaningful way. How about suborbital trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific flights to replace the Concorde? A good start, but it isn’t enough.

To successfully market space to the general public, we must carefully choose the words we use. Here are examples of the ineffective words we’ve been using for decades:

  • The President’s January speech was described as a vision for space exploration. It was entitled “A Renewed Spirit of Discovery,” and focused overwhelmingly on NASA and missions to the Moon and Mars.
  • Reflecting the President’s speech, the Aldridge Commission was called “The President’s Commission on Implementation of US Space Exploration Policy.” Its final report was “A Journey to Inspire, Innovate, and Discover.” Its website is

If these words are so effective, why did none of the cable news networks, including CSPAN, cover the Commission’s press conference on June 16th? If these words had been so effective in the past, we wouldn’t have needed the President’s speech and the Commission’s report!

We’ve been marketing space by talking about technologies, missions, programs, and government policies, and using bland warm and fuzzy slogans, as if these are the motivators for human activity in space. They are not, just as they aren’t the actual motivators in any other field of human activity. These are merely tangible constructs created in response to intangible human fears and desires.

Millions of people simply don’t care about human activity in space, no matter the form or destination, nor how excited we are. What do these people care about? The same things you and I care about that impact daily living: war, poverty, hunger, disease, security, jobs, environmental degradation, resource constraints, and more. These may represent a very broad range of issues, but they all have something in common: they arise from or create fear, and therefore are powerful motivators for human activity. Such fear will drive humanity into space or block the way. Yet what have we talked about for decades? Exploration, as if that’s enough. Clearly, for most people it doesn’t come close to being enough.

Space must be placed in a new living, human context so those who are neutral or anti-space will find their own personal reasons to care about and feel connected with space, as we do.

Yes, the exploration of space is valuable, but the most important reasons for exploring space, the reasons that robots alone simply don’t count, can be summed-up in one word: settlement. This time, we go to stay. Wherever we go, however we go, it must always be with the intention of establishing communities, and then moving again even further out, never stopping. Even if science was the only reason to go, the best science is performed by on-site scientists with their instruments, not by on-site instruments without their scientists, and that means settlements. But science isn’t the only, or even the best, reason to go. Survival and prosperity are the fundamental reasons, and these are worth any price. Unfortunately, while the Aldridge Report uses “exploration” 284 times, “settlement” isn’t used once. Instead, “extended presence” is used, but that doesn’t imply permanence.

I’ve talked about human fears and desires as the drivers of human behavior, and I’ve listed just a few of the fear-creating issues. As for desires, surely survival and prosperity qualify.

A new context for space

Why has space activity been viewed as somehow separate from these fundamental human concerns? Because from its inception and continuing today, space has been defined as unique, foreboding, difficult, and far away. Space is often seen as lifeless technologies and expensive programs, to which most people cannot relate. It’s time for this to stop. Space must be placed in a new living, human context so those who are neutral or anti-space will find their own personal reasons to care about and feel connected with space, as we do.

How can this be accomplished? By explaining in easy-to-understand terms why space is essential to life and prosperity. The first and most important step is to stop categorizing all our space activities as a “program,” as if that’s the only way we can do space, and teach this to the general public, pundits, and the media. When people think of space as a “program,” it’s difficult for most of them to really care in their heart about space activity. It requires a tremendous leap to get from “program” to understanding that space is all about life and prosperity. However, as soon as we begin informing people that space is a place where we live—just as we live in our hometown, our country, and on Earth—then what I call the Human-Space Connection™ reveals itself. In other words, we are connected with and sustained by space, and therefore space is integral to our daily lives. Stated another way, space is nothing less than the ultimate global economic growth engine, and nothing more than another place for people to live, work, study, and play.

Lunar visionary Kraft Ehricke said it best in 1970: “While civilization is more than a high material living standard it is nevertheless based on material abundance. It does not thrive on abject poverty or in an atmosphere of resignation and hopelessness. Therefore, the end objectives of solar system exploration are social objectives, in the sense that they relate to or are dictated by present and future human needs.” What do you think is more likely to enroll people; a message like this, or the marketing of spin-off products? We’ve simply got to do better than talk about Velcro, medical technologies, and communication and weather satellites.

The second step is to create easily understood and acceptable messages for educating the neutral and anti-space audiences about the Human-Space Connection™. I have three that I use constantly:

  1. Space is a mere 100 kilometers above us, and thus a continuation of our environment. Do you think many people realize space is this close? If space is seen as far away, how can people relate to space as if it’s where they live?
  2. Space is an extension of the economy, and thus part of our lives. If space is seen as a government program, how can people see it as a generator of new industries and jobs?
  3. Space is a place of abundant resources, and thus crucial to our prosperity. We have high gas prices and instability in Saudi Arabia. China and India are growing into economic powerhouses. How many signals do we need before we begin marketing space as a source of renewable energy and other resources?

Messages like these will engage, educate, excite, and enroll millions of people who otherwise rarely think about space. And these are the messages the space community routinely fails to effectively present to the general public and conventional media. Once enrolled, people will insist upon and support the human migration into space because they will feel it’s in their own self-interest.

We must give people what they want, rather than simply tell them they’re supposed to believe what we believe.

We need these people, because as commercial space activity becomes more commonplace, those who dislike all things representative of big government, big corporations, and the military will work to prevent the human migration into space. For example, The Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space sees space only as a domain of conflict and greed, as if humans are evil and nothing more. What about environmental groups? Will they push for legislation to prevent mining on the moon? Will the anti-globalization crowd fight against corporate or individual ownership of resources in space, such as asteroids? Reactions will be more emotional than rational, and we must reach out to these people and calm their fears.

We must give people what they want, rather than simply tell them they’re supposed to believe what we believe. By accomplishing the former, we’ll see them come to realize what we already understand: the settlement of space, including the Moon, offers something for everybody.

In The Ascent of Man, Jacob Bronkowski wrote, “In every age there is a turning point, a new way of seeing and asserting the coherence of the world.” A new space age beckons us, demands our best, and history will be unforgiving of our failure to see and assert in a coherent manner that the ascent of humanity requires space settlement.