Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program

David Meerman Scott and Richard Jurek, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 130 pages. ISBN 978-0-262-02696-3. Hardback.

David Scott and Richard Jurek, authors of “Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program,” are professional marketing experts, with a serious side-interest in NASA history and memorabilia. They intentionally shape their book to present an amazing amount of historical information in a style that is both visually and intellectually appealing to a wide range of readers, especially anyone with a modicum of interest in America’s Space Program. The book makes extensive use of original photographs from the Apollo Program, and of tone boxes interspersed throughout the text, to keep the reader’s interest and provide additional information on topics peripheral to the main theme. This theme is the uniqueness of the NASA Public Affairs/Information Offices during Apollo in terms of (1) providing open and honest reports on program status, (2) translating complex technical information into layman’s language, and (3) exciting and sustaining the public’s interest in space exploration (at least the Moon visits) without being overtly partisan about it.

The authors’ stated goal is “to examine the inner workings and public perceptions of the Apollo lunar program through the lens of practicing PR and marketing professionals,” and to analyze “what was done (by the NASA Public Affairs Officers [PAO]), and what worked and what did not.” They succeed admirably, particularly in showing that with a relatively small PAO staff at NASA Headquarters and the Manned Flight Centers (Marshall, Canaveral and Houston), NASA tried hard not to “spin” or “sell” the space program, but report it accurately and openly in as near real-time as the technology of the day would allow. The authors point out how different this approach was from what Americans were used to in the 1950s and 1960s from military programs and many other government activities. And, of course, it was the exact opposite of the Soviet approach, which was to say nothing until a space feat was completed, and known to be successful. Also, the book documents the unique partnership NASA and private industry enjoyed in the Apollo program, focusing on how the PAOs at NASA and their industry counterparts helped each other present the program to the world in layman’s terms. All of these NASA PAOs came from a hard news reporting background, as opposed to being publicity hacks, so the factual nature of Apollo news releases was assured, given the Headquarters policy.

The book extensively surveys the history of science fiction that set the mood for much of the public to be receptive to a real space program, even quoting astronomical artist Ron Miller (no relation to this reviewer) as saying “Astronautics is unique among all the sciences because it owes its origins to an art form.” The advent of radio and (later) television helped expand the popularity of various space-travel-themed science fiction serials throughout the nineteen- thirties, forties and fifties. Then in the fifties, the teaming of Walt Disney with Werner von Braun and the presentation of their collaborative vision on TV and in print media (notably Collier’s magazine) began to convince much of the public that real human space travel, at least as far as the moon, was possible in the near future. These linkages between science fiction, entertainment media and von Braun as the ultimate “space salesman” have been made before, but Scott and Jurek’s book tells this story with the fresh feel of marketing experts.

Of course, none of this background would provide public support for a program as massive (in money and manpower) as Apollo without the impetus of the Cold War, and the general feeling in the fifties that the Soviets were ahead of the U.S. in space launch capability. Scott and Jurek document the well-known history that led to President Kennedy’s challenge to put men on the moon before 1970, then show the role the NASA PAOs played in keeping that goal alive after Kennedy’s assassination. They report the ups and downs (such as the Apollo 1 fire) and the learning experiences of the PAOs as the Apollo program matures. The book becomes more of a history text as it presents detailed analyses of the PAO efforts carried out for each of the 11 Apollo missions (6 moon landings, one aborted moon mission, and 4 Earth-orbit or Moon-orbit development missions). It does this in the context of the television coverage of each mission, having previously established that TV was almost left out of the Apollo program altogether. It seems that the scientists, engineers and astronauts were happy with still photography, and thought that TV cameras would be too heavy for launch in the spacecraft and that astronauts shooting video of mission activities would be detrimental to the mission time-line. From our present historical perspective, we cannot imagine the Apollo missions without live TV images from the moon, but it almost didn’t happen. Only a few visionary leaders at NASA and the TV networks pushed for the TV cameras to be on the spacecraft. The book does an excellent job of showing how the need for small, lightweight cameras on the Apollo missions pushed the technology of TV cameras that in turn revolutionized commercial (and ultimately consumer) TV cameras. This is shown to be part of the general synergism of solid state devices, missile and spacecraft design requirements and computer technology being pushed by the Apollo program (and Department of Defense missions as well) to evolve from 1950s technology to 1970s technology and beyond.

Other issues addressed by this book include: media coverage of the astronauts as celebrities; NASA PAO efforts to share the results of Apollo space missions with all citizens of the U.S.; reasons for the U.S. public’s decline in interest in space exploration after Apollo; ways Apollo technology formed the basis for the digital revolution of the past 30 years; how various companies associated with Apollo tried to commercialize on that association; and philosophical impacts the Space Program has had on American (and world) culture, especially environmental awareness through photographs of Earth made from the moon and in transit. All of these are handled concisely and expertly by the authors. I noticed only a few errors, and these appeared to be typographical in nature. This book may not be a history text per se, but is definitely a fine reference book for those studying marketing and public affairs, and for anyone with interest in the history of our Space Program.

Ronald I. Miller
DoD/DIA/Missile & Space Intelligence Center (Retired)

These contributions have not been peer-refereed. They represent solely the view(s) of the author(s) and not necessarily the view of APS.