Shannon Early
December 8, 2009
NASA's Publicity Factory

"NASA is deeply committed to spreading the unique knowledge that flows from its aeronautics and space research..."--NASA's Spaceflight Mission

Since the introduction of NASA, communications has played a significant role in influencing U.S. public opinion and also relaying governmental objectives regarding space exploration. When congress passed the Space Act of 1958 creating NASA, a stream of communication tactics followed. Publicity tactics were used to heighten the romanticized idea of space exploration; therefore creating public awareness, interest, and support in not only space exploration but also other governmental affairs, including the Cold War. Press releases, media kits, and print and broadcast journalism all fueled the country's hunger for greatness and recognition in space expeditions. In 1958 American public was introduced to NASA's baby: Project Mercury. The three goals NASA established for Project Mercury were very simple; get some astronuts into space, study their functioning capabilities in space, and safely bring them and their spacecraft back to Earth. The “Mercury Seven,” (Leroy Cooper, Walter Schirra, Alan Shepard, Virgil Grissom, John Glenn, Donald Slayton and Malcolm Carpenter) became the faces of NASA and the publicity department used these seven men to create a human connection to the general public. The test pilots were turned into overnight celebrities, being featured in Time Magazine and on television. The public became engulfed in their lives and also their mission.


The next time NASA used its publicity factory to generate a buzz occurred during the Gemini Program. The goals of the Gemini were much more complex than Project Mercury; NASA was slowly elevating it's capacity for space exploration and thirst for knowledge about "the unknown" that rest in space. The goals of the Gemini program were as follows:

  • to have astronuts and their equipment in space for two weeks.
  • to meet and dock, with spacecrafts circumnatigating the area
  • to leave the docked arrangment by using the spacecraft's propulsion system
  • to refine techniques of entering the Earth's atmosphere and disembarking at an established point on land.

Although the project Gemini had a rocky beginning, the outcome of the project, which included over 12 different launches, was seen as well worth the overall investment. Publicity for the Gemini project(s) could be seen internationally, letting the Soviet Union and other leading nations around the world know that the U.S. was not only dedicated to space exploration, but also wealthy enough to continue.

The next NASA mission proved to be the most inspirational and legendary occurrance to date. In 1969, the Apollo project(s) aimed to put the first man on the Moon. Meanwhile NASA's publicity factory went into overdrive; the media went stir-crazy as millions of viewers tuned-in to watch in awe as American Neil Armstrong became the man on the moon.

After the Apollo missions NASA's limelight begin to fade in the eyes of the public; missions to the moon had grown old. Americans returned to their daily routines, undoubtledy waiting for the next project NASA could cook up to once again lure their interests; re-romanticizing space travel. "[Flight director Chris Kraft] knew it was all over when he looked at his little montior in mission control and we were driving on the moon for the first time. And he looked over at the networks and they were still showing soap operas."-Catherine Harwood (Rocket Men, pg 335)

NASA public relations begin to use other tactics to once again attract the public's eye. In 1983 the first woman astron[a]ut, Sally Ride was launched into air as America watched again. From that point on a host of others followed in Ride's footsteps including Guion Bluford, the first African American male in space and also Mae Jemison, the first African American women in space.

Since that time NASA has put scientists, average American individuals and animals in space. All these events are tactics to keep America's attention and support for NASA programs. Although public opinion has drastically changed since the first introduction of NASA and space travel, one thing remains constant; as long as NASA's publicity factory can aid in the dissemination of ideas regarding further the space explorations, Americans and people all over the world will definitely be watching.