Nov 30th 2018

The role of PR in space exploration

Following a seven-month journey, NASA’s Mars InSight probe this week reached its destination and landed safely on the surface of the red planet, providing another example of innovation in space technology advancing at an astounding rate.

Last year, Elon Musk, the Founder of SpaceX, unveiled an audacious new plan to build giant reusable spaceships and take humans to Mars by 2024. The former part of his plan is already a reality, with Falcon Heavy successfully launching and landing in February 2018. In parallel, NASA is planning an exploration project, which will commence in the 2020s, to visit the only moon known to have an extensive atmosphere—Titan, the largest satellite of Saturn. And we’re arguably only just at the beginning of the golden age of space exploration. From privately-funded missions to the moon, to NASA’s plan for a journey to ‘touch’ the Sun, the next few years will be ground-breaking for space science.

Space exploration is an industry focused on the future, and underpinned by visionary thought. Yet it’s also an industry that’s heavily reliant on public opinion and as a result, public relations.

Going (boldly) into space PR

Space initiatives have always required dedicated PR campaigns to gather support of upcoming programmes. As a public company, NASA relies on government funding and its survival is dependent on public endorsement. Hence, the company is continuously working on consumer engagement campaigns, including events such as NASA SOLVE, a series of competitions and citizen science activities aimed at developing solutions for problems related to its missions.

But it doesn’t end there. NASA was also involved in the making of Ridley Scott’s Academy Award-winning film ‘The Martian’, in order to bring greater scientific accuracy to the story. Why? because NASA is planning its own, real life, ‘Journey to Mars’, which subsequently got a major public relations boost, and helped to further promote space exploration initiatives.

However, NASA isn’t the only player in the space game. While historically it’s been a government activity, today we’re seeing more and more private investment in space-based activities. Privately-owned companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have developed their own plans for exploration – from launching satellites into low-orbit, to sending tourists into space.

These organisations continue to get global coverage for nearly everything they do. Why? Because they have goals beyond profit. Because they’re not only trying to achieve amazing things, but also tell their stories in an engaging way to the public in order to get them excited for the future of space exploration. Here is where space PR plays a crucial role.

Failure to launch: the importance of crisis comms

As well as driving awareness of innovative initiatives, public relations professionals of government-backed and private space companies are tasked with preparing for both the amazing successes and the potentially devastating failures that come with any pioneering venture. Major achievements covered by the media over the years include the Apollo 11 mission, the Voyager programme or the launch of a cherry-red Tesla Roadster into space, on course to the asteroid belt. But NASA has also had some PR fails, including its poor handling of the explosion of the Challenger in 1986, which highlighted the importance of good crisis communications to maintain the public’s trust and support.

We still run into similar problems today, including unsuccessful rocket launches and booster failures, effecting both public and private organisations. Space exploration can be a risky business, involving great investment and some very creative problem-solving. Indeed, with social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, stories can be shared with millions of people around the world in seconds, so crisis comms has never been more important, especially for organisations deeply dependent on public opinion.

We’ve already reached several significant achievements in space exploration. But this is just the beginning. If visionaries like Elon Musk have their way, entirely new industries such as asteroid mining will soon be a reality and undoubtedly, PR will play a key role in communicating those advancements to audiences around the globe.

Discover the work Babel has done in the space PR sector, and how we can help deliver effective results for your company.


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