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Why hasn’t anyone heard of Artemis?
NASA’s Artemis space program needs a marketing boost. Here's how to do it.
Executive Summary: This article is a call to level up the marketing of NASA’s Artemis space program to inspire the public and build soft power. It includes four specific recommendations along with creative images that we produced to visualize these recommendations. As chair of the National Space Council, we encourage Vice President Harris to light a fire under NASA, create a high-powered private task force, and provide political leadership within the Biden administration and international partners.
“Let’s read the Elon Musk rocket book,” said my six-year-old at bedtime several months ago. At the time, I was working on a project related to the U.S. space program and curious about its marketing. As I retrieved the blue picture book, “Elon Musk: This book is about rockets,” I asked my son if he had heard of NASA’s Artemis space program. “What’s that?” he replied.
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Since that evening, I have informally surveyed people — adults and kids alike — on whether they have heard of NASA’s Artemis program. Most are like my son: They know SpaceX but are unfamiliar with Artemis.
The Artemis space program & why it matters
The Artemis program, led by NASA, seeks to land humans on the Moon by the mid-2020s, establishing a sustainable presence for future exploration and serving as a stepping stone for crewed missions to Mars. It is the centerpiece of the U.S. space program and a joint effort with six partner agencies — the European Space Agency (ESA), the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the Israel Space Agency (ISA), and the Italian Space Agency (ASI).
The success of the Artemis program has significant implications for the future of space exploration. It also has geopolitical implications, particularly considering China’s growing space ambitions. The stakes are high.
Artemis has all of the ingredients to capture public imagination and build soft power. It is truly an incredible program, but NASA and the Biden Administration are under-selling it. Artemis has undertaken marketing efforts like press releases, social media, and educational outreach. But it lacks pizzazz. It hasn’t broken through public consciousness. Public awareness is low.
We should change this. And we can.
How to improve Artemis’s marketing
Out of a sense that more could be done, the Boyd Institute engaged Dallas-based design studio Sorcery earlier this year to explore ways to improve the marketing of Artemis. Our guiding question was:
How can improve the marketing of Artemis to inspire the public and promote soft power?
Together, we studied space marketing with a focus on the public relations campaign that fueled the Apollo space program in the late-1960s and early 1970s. Armed with this historical knowledge, we came up with four suggestions for leveling up the marketing of Artemis. We also created mock creative campaigns to help visualize these suggestions. We summarized these in a pdf that was circulated within the Biden Administration several months ago.
Here are the four recommendations we made:
1. Bring the astronauts to life
As of this writing, Artemis’s social media profiles lead with the boast that the program will land the first woman and person of color on the moon. And yet we don’t know their names or faces. We support a diverse astronaut corps, but it seems odd to present demographic diversity as Artemis’s primary objective. At best it obscures their individual identities. At worst, it provides an invitation to politicizing the space program. Imagine a politician saying, “Even our space program has gone woke.” Never mind that the messaging began under the previous administration.
We recommend showing Artemis’s diversity through the unique identities of its astronauts rather than gesturing toward it. Let the images and biographies of the astronauts speak for themselves. This was one of the key lessons from the success of Apollo’s public relations: to humanize and showcase the astronauts.
Thus, our first recommendation was to spotlight Artemis astronauts both as individuals and as a group. Imagine billboards and ads prominently featuring all four crew members of Artemis II: Reid Weissman, Commander; Victor Glover, Pilot; Christina Koch, Mission Specialist; and Jeremy Hansen, Mission Specialist.
Imagine kids collecting action figures for each of these astronauts. Imagine little girls wearing t-shirts featuring Christina Koch. These should be our Marvel heroes!
2. Highlight international cooperation
Artemis is an American-led project in collaboration with partners in Europe, Japan, and Canada, but little of its existing marketing speaks to the program’s global character. Thus, our second recommendation was to highlight international cooperation. This can be accomplished through events with world leaders, ad campaigns, and international exhibitions. Showcasing the inclusive, international nature of Artemis is a powerful way to present a united front as democratic nations.
The Artemis Accords, a set of guiding principles for the future of space, present an opportunity to take this to the next level. In 2020, NASA in coordination with the State Department and seven other founding member nations, layed out a framework for collaborating on the next generation of lunar missions. At the time of this writing, 32 countries have signed the accords, according to NASA. Building greater awareness and educating the global public about the Artemis Accords is another way to build soft power and promote the space program.
3. Connect with ‘Generation Artemis’
Artemis’s current marketing uses the language of the “Generation Artemis'' but does little to capture the imagination of today’s children — a huge lost opportunity. Thus, our third objective was to build a youth fandom. This can be accomplished through merch like t-shirts and costumes, brand collaborations with toy-makers and Netflix shows, and clever ad campaigns on YouTube or elsewhere.
Done effectively, my son would pester me for Artemis-themed toys, books, and video games if he knew these existed. He would want to be Victor Glover for Halloween. Artemis would be covered in art and sciences classes at school, and there would be a special exhibition featuring it at the local museum. Millions of youth are ready to be inspired by Artemis. Imagine inspiring these youth in the same way baby boomers’ dreams, goals, and ambitions were shaped by the space race. The opportunities are boundless.
4. Unleash human creativity across the whole of society
The childhood fascination with space shared by so many baby boomers did not just happen. It was nurtured by a whole-of-society effort — the space park at the 1964 World’s Fair, President Kennedy’s speech announcing our quest to land on the moon, space-themed books and TV programs, and Neil Armstrong’s epochal first steps on the lunar surface. Space became a focus of human creativity across all of society.
It can be again.
Thus, our fourth objective was to unleash human creativity across the whole of society to promote Artemis. This might start with political leadership — a memorable speech by President Biden or an educational initiative spearheaded by the Department of Education. It could be nurtured by the commercial sector through social media features, space-branded products, and space-related initiatives. Creative artists could produce songs and movies about Artemis’s quest to return to the moon and on to Mars. Schools and community centers could sponsor Artemis-focused art and science contests during World Space Week.
Looking at you, Madame Vice President ✨
Today’s geopolitical environment recalls the 1960s with democratic and autocratic powers competing over space capabilities. Yet only one side — China — seems to be aggressively promoting its space program to inspire its society.
The Artemis program has all the elements needed to unite and inspire imaginations across the world. No one is better positioned to light the spark than Vice President Harris, who chairs the National Space Council. Here are four things she could do to get the ball rolling.
First, she could light a fire under NASA to improve the funding and leadership of Artemis’s marketing efforts.
Second, she could set in motion a review of NASA’s Commercial and Intellectual Property Group policies. The review could aim loosen up policies that get in the way of marketing, like restrictions on use of images of the astronauts.
Third, she could empower the other space agencies involved in Artemis to level up their marketing. Rather than “marketing by committee,” NASA could set guidelines and promote independent and collaborative marketing efforts among partners.
Fourth, she could create a powerhouse private task force and challenge them to create a new era of space marketing. The task force could include donors, PR superstars, Biden administration officials, toy-makers, publishers, digital marketing experts, entertainment titans, and civil society leaders. She could provide a message like, "This is a whole-of-society effort, here are the keys to the kingdom, now go" kind of message. The crew would need a leader, someone very connected at the highest levels and motivated to make this a success — someone like Richard Edelman, the CEO of his eponymous global communications firm. It would also need patrons.
Those are just a few ideas.
I would love to see a future where my son requests bedtime reading about Artemis. “Dad, can we read Why the Moon tonight?” he would ask. To which I would reply, “Yes” followed by, “When do you think we will make it to Mars?”
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Click here for the pdf file with all images.
WaPo: Will China beat the U.S. back to the moon? It’s possible
Wired: China’s bid to win the new space race
Space.com: The Artemis Accords explained
Book: Marketing the moon: the selling of the Apollo lunar program
Children’s Book: Elon Musk: This book is about rockets
Have you heard of Artemis? What are your thoughts on improving its marketing?
What are some other marketing and communication recommendations?
What are some other ways to get the ball rolling?
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