We’re thrilled by this review in the June, 2014 issue of Spaceflight from the British Interplanetary Society. The review was written by the publication’s Editor, David Baker.
The jacket flap for this beautifully produced book tells us that David Meerman is a marketing strategist and that Richard Jurek is a marketing and public relations executive. From the premise that marketing and public relations are two completely separate activities, the pairing of these two specialists as authors of a wide-ranging look at selling the Moon programme to a global audience is inspirational.
There have been many books written about the way the Space Race took hold in the late 1950s. By far the majority are scholarly, academic analyses dissecting the social history of an age we will never see again. Some have been written by historians and NASA has itself dipped into the manner in which the space programme was ‘sold’ to the public and the impact that has had on society and culture.
This book captures the real-world mood of the age and does a magnificent job of peeling back the decades and bringing life once again to fading memories. The period was unique and it is impossible to convey to those not alive at the time the sense of hope and vision that gripped the developed world as mission after mission achieved breathtaking and spectacular steps along a road many believed would transform the way we all lived, worked and played.
This book is a highly illustrated tour-de-force of the particular way government and industry grabbed the attention of the media and, at first without planning it, wooed the public and seduced print and electronic news channel to get behind the biggest message of the day. This was an unusual accomplishment and began long before ‘space’ was an everyday word, a reference usually reserved for science fiction and highly imaginative speculation that serious people ignored.
From Collier’s magazine to Walt Disney productions, still and moving images of a fantastic future that just about seemed plausible launched a maelstrom of film and TV programmes that gathered up the hopes and ambitious of a post-war world and defined a new age of hope and expectation.
The early 1950s were a key turning point in the grandstanding of political prowess and the space programme quickly became an integral part of that. How the space programme was defined for a lay audience and its importance welded to the national interest is a fascinating story, well told through the pages of this book.
It begins by recounting the early public fascination with science fiction and tales of planetary exploration, exemplified by ‘Space Patrol’ screened by American TV channels from 1950. This quickly became a national sensation, as did talks, writings and the TV appearances of Wernher von Braun. In an authoritative and heavily accented voice, this German rocket scientist soon paired with Walt Disney and was given broad publicity through the 1955 TV show ‘Man in Space’.
In this, Disney blended science fact with fiction, electrifying his audience with tales of shuttlecraft and space stations. A third of the population of the United States watched the show and Disney carried it to his Disneyland TV series which served to publicise his theme park which opened on 18 July 1955.
Von Braun had been propelled toward a nationwide stage through his writings for Collier’s magazine a few years earlier, as well as the several books he wrote including The Mars Project. All this sounds astounding today when missile and rocket engineers working on top-secret government weapons would hardly be allowed to speak openly about their work in public, let alone brought to a national TV stage and set free to speak uncensored!
With the launch of Sputnik and the establishment of NASA, the new agency sputtered into existence on a completely different level to the existing National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics from which it emerged. Public interest grew exponentially and the book describes accurately the difficult relationship between the military management of the missile test range at Cape Canaveral and their new ‘civilian’ tenants.
A different game
Within 32 months of coming into being, NASA was catapulted onto an entirely different level with the Apollo Moon goal and new space centres were springing up, most notably outside Houston, and the new agency got its own turf at Cape Canaveral – the Kennedy Space Center. In the first several years of NASA, professional journalists and pressmen staffed and ran the Public Information Office with teams ferreting out information to saturate the media.
They were focused on what today is known as ‘brand journalism’ or ‘content marketing’, presenting strong fact-based stories which they prepared for the media and the news channels. This recruited the attention of professional reporters, broadcasters and anchormen because the stories were seen to originate with people of their own kind – NASA employees linking complex technical and scientific explanations to the language of the man in the street.
With the vast majority of NASA money spent with contractors and their suppliers, the Apollo programme became a byword for delivery, performance and high-tech capabilities. Companies large and small festooned their adverts in trade magazines and newspapers with associations to Apollo. In this way, quite remarkable in itself and unique in the history of government/press relations, NASA did the public relations and industry did the marketing. The press provided the conduit directly to the global audience because they came to believe the message.
A new culture
Where the book plumbs depths untouched in most other descriptions of the period it reveals root causes for a new trust between government and the press. This began when NASA decided at the outset that it would reverse a policy favoured by the military and announce full details of launches before they took place. This openness, and the way the civilian space agency fought to have reporters and TV cameras brought in to the Air Force Missile Test Center (Cape Canaveral), paid dividends when the programme expanded.
With a voracious appetite for ‘gee-whiz’ facts and complex technical descriptions, made simple through everyday language, the press was sympathetic to NASA. This paid dividends at times of crisis – the Apollo fire and Apollo 13 to name but two. It was because the press felt that NASA was open, honest, and could be relied upon to tell the truth that the space agency was trusted to come up with answers when things went wrong, however painful that was.
Wisely, the book restricts itself to the selling of the Moon story through Apollo years when the programme was in its most glorious period. It aptly conveys a sense of the time, a periodfeel reflected in the gender imbalance in the newsrooms and press facilities. The authors point to the presence of Mary Bubb, the one and only female space reporter, in a picture of the lobby at Mission Control during the tense days of Apollo 13. A bubbly young lady indeed, Mary caught the eye of many a journalist, not a little perplexed at a woman entering their domain!
Where the book excels is in the matching of pictures with text. Copiously illustrated in black and white and colour throughout, it benefits from the landscape format, imbuing a feeling that one is browsing through a scrapbook. The effect is enhanced through the use of almost sepia-tinted images and the use of contemporary advertising as examples of commercial synergy with the Space Race.
The publishers are to be congratulated on a well designed and beautifully crafted book which fills a void in the history of Apollo.