Tesla has famously made electric cars cool. Today, NASA and space travel in general are experiencing a resurgence of cool, and Elon Musk’s SpaceX has been a big part of that, as reported in a recent CNBC video. Famous astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has said that NASA’s partnership with SpaceX is one of the biggest advancements the agency has made since the Apollo Moon landing.
Of course, space was super-cool in the 1960s, when some 600 million people around the world tuned in to watch the first Moon mission. The Space Shuttle program, which ran from 1981 to 2011, made some important advances, but never attained the same coolness level somehow.
Now space is back in the headlines, and hipper than ever. In 2018, when SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket launched Starman and Elon’s little red Roadster toward Mars, the coolness factor soared along with it. This year, when NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley flew the Crew Dragon spacecraft to the ISS, and safely splashed down two months later, they made history in more ways than one. It was the first manned mission for SpaceX, and the first to be launched from American soil since the end of the shuttle program. More importantly, it was a much-needed display of the American can-do spirit, proof that our troubled country can still do great things.
In May, over 150,000 people made the trip to the Kennedy Space Center to watch the first launch attempt, and over 10 million watched the actual launch online a few days later.
“A lot of people confuse NASA and SpaceX,” says Michael Sheetz, CNBC’s reporter covering the space industry. Furthermore, the founder of branding agency Cosma Schema, Andrew Sloan, points to the influence of Elon Musk (SpaceX), Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin), and Richard Branson (Virgin Galactic) as "generating big interest again in what’s happening in space exploration."
Above: A look at how SpaceX has influenced public perception and awareness surrounding NASA (YouTube: CNBC Make It.)
“NASA’s always cool. Always,” Scott Kelly, whose 340 days in space set a NASA record, told CNBC. “It’s like the greatest brand ever. I travel around the world—you see that NASA meatball everywhere.”
NASA’s a social media star—the agency has over 500 accounts on all the popular platforms. NASA’s main Instagram account has 60 million followers, and the Hubble Space Telescope’s account has 3.3 million. The Mars Curiosity Rover has its own Twitter account, with 4 million followers. NASA also offers free access to its enormous, searchable photo and video database.
NASA’s logos have also become a fashion staple, showing up on designer sweatshirts and NBA players’ Nike sneakers. Ariana Grande has a hit single called “NASA” (and a matching line of NASA-themed merchandise).
“You go to Target and you buy a NASA T-shirt and you wear it and you support it because being a nerd is cool,” retired astronaut Leland Melvin told CNBC. “We’re looking at going to Mars. We’re looking at sending the first woman to the moon in the Artemis program. And I think kids see this, people see this, and they say, ‘These are the things that are possible.’”