Oct 22, 2019

Axios Space

Miriam Kramer

Thanks for reading Axios Space. At 1,164 words, this week's newsletter will take you about 4 minutes to read.

Please send your tips, questions and properly sized spacesuits to miriam.kramer@axios.com, or just reply to this email.

1 big thing: Space-age marketing

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Fashion, food and media brands are using the buzz around the space industry to market their products, shaping the way people on Earth understand and interact with the extraterrestrial sphere for years to come.

What's happening: Last week, Virgin Galactic announced a partnership with Under Armour to produce a line of spacewear to be worn on the company's suborbital flights to the edge of space.

  • It's the latest in a series of brand partnerships Virgin Galactic has penned in recent years, defining itself as a luxury space brand in the process.
  • Budweiser wants to become the first beer brewed on Mars and has sent beer-brewing experiments to the International Space Station.
  • Israel's Aleph Farms just announced that it grew meat on the Russian side of the station.
  • Astrobotic — a company aiming to land a robotic spacecraft on the Moon — has a deal with DHL to allow the mail company to manage logistics of lunar deliveries for the commercial spaceflight company and its customers.

The backdrop: Historically, NASA has not taken part in marketing activities for commercial products.

  • As the only U.S. game in space for years, those prohibitions naturally limited how much advertising made it to orbit.
  • But today, companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, Rocket Lab and others don't have those restrictions.

The catch: The idea that the night sky and space in general could be polluted by advertisements and marketing campaigns doesn't sit well with some.

  • Rocket Lab's Humanity Star — a satellite designed to be visible to the naked eye as a piece of art — received major criticism from astronomers for its frivolous nature.
  • Pepsi also received negative attention when it was reported that its Russian subsidiary was looking into the idea of buying a billboard in space that would have been visible in the night sky. (A U.S. law prohibits the launch of any ad that could be seen from space with the naked eye.)
  • Brands should make sure their space marketing and advertising feels authentic, Brian Talbot, the founder of Adaptive Consulting, told Axios.

Yes, but: Some experts think advertising and branding in space could give the industry and space science a boost in prominence and power.

  • "We lose a great deal of the population when we treat science or space as some kind of exquisite activity that can't be touched by popular culture or marketing," Mike Gold, a vice president at Maxar and member of the NASA Advisory Council, told Axios.

What's next: NASA's plans to turn over more operations on the space station to private entities will open up more opportunities for brands to conduct marketing activities.

2. Setting the spacesuit record straight

NASA astronaut Christina Koch takes a selfie during a spacewalk. Photo: NASA

As NASA aims to make spaceflight more inclusive and equitable, outdated ideas about women and their fitness for certain aspects of spaceflight still persist.

Driving the news: During a press briefing ahead of the historic all-female spacewalk on Friday, NASA's acting associate administrator for human exploration Ken Bowersox suggested that it took this long for two women to go on a spacewalk together in part because women’s bodies aren’t as fit for spacewalking as men.

  • “It’s a little bit like playing in the NBA," Bowersox, a former astronaut said. "I’m too short to play in the NBA, and sometimes physical characteristics make a difference in certain activities, and spacewalks are one of those areas where just how your body is built in shape, it makes a difference in how well you can work the suit.”

But, but, but: The spacesuits used on these spacewalks weren't made with women in mind.

  • "The technology for our spacesuits that we're still wearing today was actually developed in the '70s, and the astronaut population did look a little bit different back then," NASA astronaut Jessica Meir, one of the two women who went on the spacewalk Friday, said during a Monday press briefing.
  • Historically, women have been underrepresented in NASA's Astronaut Corps, making it even less likely the two would have been assigned to the same spacewalk at all.

Between the lines: While the spacewalking milestone was celebrated by NASA as a big moment for women in space, the agency has yet to reach gender parity.

  • According to a NASA survey, about 34% of the space agency's workforce is female.

What's next: The space agency aims to send the first woman to the Moon in 2024 as part of its Artemis program.

  • Last week, NASA revealed a new spacesuit designed for microgravity and on planetary surfaces like the Moon.
  • The space agency stressed that the xEMU suit is designed to fit women as well as men.

Go deeper: Why spacesuit design choices delayed the first all-female spacewalk (The Verge)

3. Planetary protection

Mars as seen by the Curiosity rover. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA should consider relaxing some of its guidelines governing how to prevent the contamination of planetary bodies during robotic and human missions, according to a report released Friday.

Why it matters: NASA wants to be sure that if life is eventually found elsewhere in our solar system, it isn’t the result of contamination from our own world.

  • Planetary protection guidelines are designed to guard against that kind of contamination and protect our own planet from possible contamination as well.

Where it stands: The report from NASA's Planetary Protection Independent Review Board suggests NASA should consider reclassifying parts of the Moon and Mars to better reflect what scientists now understand about the worlds and their suitability for life.

  • Less stringent planetary protection standards would, in theory, break down barriers for commercial or other missions to land on planetary surfaces while still protecting those worlds.
  • Research into how best to protect planetary objects from contamination has advanced in recent years and that should be reflected in NASA’s rules, argue the report's authors.
“We want to move from the '60s, ‘70s point of view that all of Mars should be treated precisely one way and all of each world should be treated one way to this more nuanced view, where we differentiate between different sites on the surface in order to enable more science to be done."
— Alan Stern, head of the independent review board, during a press briefing
4. Out of this world reading list

NASA's InSight on Mars. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Rocket Lab aims for the Moon and beyond with new Photon satellite platform (Tariq Malik, Space.com)

Made In Space to launch commercial recycler to space station (Debra Werner, Space News)

NASA's Mars InSight is unstuck and officially back to work (Adam Rosenberg, Mashable)

NASA has a new head of human spaceflight (Axios)

5. Your weekly dose of awe: An interstellar visitor
Gif: NASA/ESA/D. Jewitt (UCLA)

The Hubble Space Telescope has given us our best view yet of the interstellar comet 2I/Borisov on its way through our solar system.

  • The new photos of the comet show it in blue light speeding along, about 420 million kilometers (261 million miles) from Earth.
  • “Because another star system could be quite different from our own, the comet could have experienced significant changes during its long interstellar journey,” Amaya Moro-Martin of the Space Telescope Science Institute said in a statement.

Background: 2I/Borisov is just the second interstellar object seen on a path through the inner solar system. By studying its chemical composition, the comet could tell us how similar or different other solar systems might be compared to our own.

Go deeper: Astronomers giddy about 2nd interstellar object in 2 years

Miriam Kramer

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