How Sponsors Sold Us On the Space Race

American consumers needed to be sold on space. Sponsors made that process possible. Notables such as Douglas, Rocketdyne, Lockheed, Thiokol and Hughes were joined by more obscure brands such as Temco, American Latex, Marquardt, Ex-Cell-O and Radiation Inc. to promote the mysterious and expensive journey into the unknown. 

In her new book, Another Science Fiction, Megan Prelinger takes us on a visual treasure hunt to uncover the deeper meanings of the space-age campaigns that sold America a culture-changing idea: space, the final frontier.

All the sponsoring entities had much to gain if citizens could be sold through advertising. The aim was threefold: 1) To recruit the best and the brightest engineering and scientific talent; 2) To carve out a specialty in the complex array of space hardware production and stake the territory from competing subcontractors, and; 3) To send a message to NASA brass that they were helping them achieve what they could not—using overt marketing to win hearts and minds. 

The ad copy is robustly optimistic. “The Stafoam orbit is infinite! Your investigation may uncover an entirely new dimension. Write or call today!” 

Selling an idea for the unknown makes aspiration an art form. Better yet, it trains the American imagination to focus on specific things. 

In selling the new, the weird, the unknown or the ethereal, focus is critical. The alternative is chaos. In everything from powdered orange juice later marketed as Tang to no-fumble fasteners later known as Velcro—focus wins.