NASA Examining Commercial Endorsements, Rocket Naming Rights

Jim Bridenstine (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Corporations buying the naming rights to launch vehicles and space missions, and NASA astronauts with endorsements and their photos on cereal boxes were some of the commercial ideas floated this week to help the agency commercialize space activities.

“There is interest in that right now,” Administrator Jim Bridenstine said during an appearance before the NASA Advisory Council (NAC). “The question is, is it possible? And the answer is, I don’t know. But, we need somebody to give us advice on whether it is.

“Why would we want to sell the naming rights?” he added. “Well, because then those private companies can then embed in their marketing campaigns NASA. We can embed NASA into the culture and fabric of American society and inspire generations of folks that will create those next capabilities to keep America preeminent not only in space but in science and technology and discovery and exploration.”

Bridenstine announced the formation of a new NAC committee headed by Mike Gold to advise the space agency on these and other ideas.

“The purpose of the Regulatory and Policy Committee will be to tackle barriers to achieving NASA’s goals by providing expert, independent and creative advice to the council and the administrator,” Gold said. “There are a wide array of issues the new committee will address.”

The plan is to commercialize operations in low Earth orbit (LEO) to help offset NASA’s costs and free the space agency to focus on the moon and Mars. A key goal is to establish a business case and bolster demand for commercial space stations in orbit, Gold said.

“For this to occur, obsolete rules and regulations must be reviewed and revised. For example, the Regulatory and Policy Committee will assess how to free American astronauts to fully support commercial activities on the ISS,” said Gold, who is SSL’s vice president of DC operations.

“American companies should not have to turn to Russian cosmonauts to execute commercial operations. When new industrial substances are created, commercial experiments conducted, or even advertisements filmed, American astronauts should lead the way,” Gold said.

“Speaking of astronauts, the committee will examine giving them the freedom to pursue endorsements and other media opportunities, he added. “Our astronauts are American heroes, and deserve to be treated as such.”

Bridenstine noted that the United States has a shortage of military pilots because they can make a lot more money flying for commercial airlines. NASA could have the same problem as private astronauts begin to fly aboard commercial crew vehicles being developed by Boeing and SpaceX.

“We need to find ways to allow astronauts to engage with private sector companies and the media to ensure that the astronauts, NASA and STEM return to a place of importance in popular culture,” he added. “The nation should fully leverage our astronauts as ambassadors to inspire the engineers, mathematicians and scientists of tomorrow.”