Tuesday, July 21, 2009

NASA: Then and Now

The current media attention being given to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, more commonly known as NASA, led me to consider how and what Americans think about space exploration.

NASA programs, and NASA in general have a fascinating brand identity because it seems to have a general appeal; people think positive thoughts about NASA. However, unlike many brands, they're not really selling a product and they're thought of differently by different generations. Also, as a government agency, their public relations and marketing is important, but not as key as it is for private industry.

I'm too young to have experienced what I consider the golden age of space exploration, the space race of the 1960's, but I still have a sense of what it meant to Americans. Still, because today's youth didn't experience the excitement of the first man on the moon as it happened, instead learning of it in history books, younger generations have a different perception of what the space programs mean. To young American's astronauts and space exploration are largely something to be taken for granted, accepted as "nifty," but not a truly thrilling subject.

Granted, NASA is far from the only brand name that suffers from a generation gap. However, it seems that for NASA, as an agency that is meant to perform a public service and also being on the cutting edge, the generation separation has more significance. How are NASA researchers, scientists, and astronauts going to continue to be innovative and continue to widen the bounds of human knowledge and experience without enthusiasm from the youth?

I think the recent highlight of the Apollo missions, among other space exploration milestones, may pique the interest of a few. I don't think that's enough though, considering America's collective attention span. Maybe NASA needs to put a few pennies of it's budget into the marketing side and try to make space exciting again. After all, image is still important, even if you managed to put a man on the moon.

History of the NASA logo: http://www.logoblog.org/nasa-logo.php

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