The Martian Lifts Off

“The book The Martian is earning high praise from space, and the astronaut-reviewer can’t wait to see the soon-to-be-released movie.”

Clever marketing types have long understood the allure of space, and specifically the PR bump their products could receive through their presence on a mission. I suppose it all started with Tang, that chemically concocted, orange-colored powdered drink made famous in the early sixties by Mercury astronaut John Glenn.

“Sales of Tang were poor until NASA used it on John Glenn’s Mercury flight, and subsequent Gemini missions. Since then, it was closely associated with the U.S. manned spaceflight program, leading to the misconception that Tang was invented for the space program.”

American astronauts have played host to all sorts of commercial products over the years — from Playboy centerfolds to Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber to a $250,000 can of Coca-Cola that defied gravity when consumed.

Coke & Pepsi Cans Made for Space
Coke & Pepsi Cans Made for Space

Since all NASA space missions enjoy a dedicated media following, albeit much less today than in years’ past (SpaceX notwithstanding), many a PR pro has been charged with engaging these specialized beat reporters for their clients’ wares. I remember touting to science reporter Ira Flatow (now on NPR) a client’s product used for the heat shield on one space shuttle mission.

The economics of how a product comes to have a presence on the space station or a short-lived mission are unclear. Is it akin to a brand paying for a cameo in a big-screen film or small screen Vine or Facebook video? Some products are mission critical, as was the case with my client, the manufacturer of the heat shield, while others, much less so. Gizmodo explains one rationale – gifts:

“Some paraphernalia were taken into orbit for no reason other than to say it was in space. During the shuttle program, each mission carried an Official Flight Kit (OFK) where personal items were stowed for the flight. The items were often chosen so they could be later given out as gifts.”

It therefore came as no surprise that the new Matt Damon-topper “The Martian” has docked with the International Space Station to draw universal attention to the motion picture just a few weeks prior to its earthly premiere. Does it get any better that this? The Guardian reports:

“Nasa astronaut Kjell Lindgren said on Tuesday from the International Space Station that both he and crewmate Scott Kelly have read the novel by Andy Weir. Lindgren told reporters he really enjoyed the book and hopes to get a copy of the film beamed up to orbit on 2 October, the day of release, or shortly thereafter.”

Or this headline from CBS News?

“Space station astronauts big fans of “The Martian”

Whatever the mechanism deployed for getting that book, and soon the film onto the International Space Station, it worked for me. Mr. Damon’s opus is at the top of my list of films to see this fall.