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NASA open access image/ID:PIA18307

Brands in Space: What’s behind the rush to advertise in the final frontier?


By Nino Paoli

Published on 4/10/24

A lot has changed in the 50 years between NASA’s last Apollo mission and the landing of Intuitive Machines’ lunar lander this February. For one thing, the Apollo mission didn’t brandish the Columbia Sportswear logo.

The unlikely partnership between Intuitive Machines and the outdoor apparel company created the first U.S.-built commercial spacecraft to touch down on the moon, highlighting an explosion of private sector space endeavors. But, why Columbia Sportswear?


As NASA waits to decommission the International Space Station in 2030, the government agency is helping private aerospace companies like Intuitive Machines, Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezo’s Blue Origin “advance capabilities for science, exploration, or commercial development of the Moon,” according to NASA’s website.

In addition to a possible lunar economy, the privatization of the space industry is creating a competitive market for space tourism. Take, for example, Blue Origin’s spaceflight booking page, or the British company Virgin Galactic selling 800 space tourism tickets, with prices as steep as $450,000 each, in June 2023. The company performed its first space tourism flight carrying private passengers the next month. As with all commercial travel comes the opportunity of sponsored ads and amenities from other companies.

Brands using space as a backdrop to market their products that have seemingly nothing to do with it isn’t anything new — see KitKat and Estée Lauder chucking their merchandise into the expanse for some eye-catching images. And with the surge of private companies developing technologies to reach space, these partnership opportunities may multiply. But, just how effective is this marketing strategy?

In Columbia’s case, part of Intuitive Machines’ lunar lander was layered with patented material called Omni-Heat, which can be found in their bulkier coats, and was said to be “protecting [the lunar lander] from extreme temperatures in space,” according to the company’s promotional web campaign.


“They make black puffer coats, like all of their competitors,” said Ian Parkman, associate professor of marketing at the University of Portland.


Parkman sees this marketing strategy as leaning into hyperbole to differentiate Columbia’s coats from the countless other options consumers are given by, say, The North Face, Patagonia and other apparel brands.


“It just becomes increasingly difficult for those firms to find any point of differentiation,” Parkman said. “No one is meant to really think that the Columbia material is really protecting the spacecraft… But if it works in this extreme environment, it’s just good enough for me walking around on a rainy Saturday in Portland, Oregon.”

Just seven days after landing on the moon, Intuitive Machines announced its lunar lander mission ended, citing “harsh temperatures of the lunar night” as the reason. All is not lost, though.

Read the full article on Marketplace's website here.

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