Space Age

Saturday is the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission. In the days and weeks leading up to the milestone, licensors, retailers, and licensees have been announcing space-themed content, promotions, and products, especially in the realms of entertainment, toys, and fashion. The initiatives, most of which incorporate assets from NASA or other space agencies, take many forms:

  • Mattel worked with the European Space Agency on an astronaut doll depicting Samantha Cristoforetti, the only female astronaut currently active in Europe. The doll, available in the EMEA countries, is meant to inspire girls to think about becoming astronauts, space scientists, and engineers. The venture is under the umbrella of the Barbie Dream Gap Project, formed to level the playing field for girls in global careers.
  • U.K. retailer Primark introduced an apparel and accessories collection for men and women inspired by NASA’s Apollo 11 mission. The products, ranging from windbreakers, tops, and hoodies, to bags, notebooks, and travel pillows, appeared on retail shelves in June.
  • Wind Dancer Films’ STEM- and space-themed preschool series Ready Jet Go!, which airs on PBS Kids, tied into the milestone by creating a special that debuted in June about Apollo 11 and the moon landing. The episode featured an animated version of Amy Mainzer, an astronomer from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, which cooperates and advises on the show; Mainzer regularly appears in the live-action interstitials in the series. The launch of a new app, Ready Jet Go! Space Scouts, featuring five moon-themed educational games, followed the special.
  • Designer Heron Preston created a NASA spacesuit-inspired capsule of sweats and hoodies in honor of the 50th anniversary, after creating a similar collection last year to mark NASA’s 60th year. Preston also paired this year with Very Important Pets, a site specializing in clothing for dogs, on a NASA-inspired canine streetwear collection.
  • Nickelodeon announced it was teaming with Imagine Kids & Family to develop an as-yet-unnamed live-action series for ages 6-11 about a group of normal kids who launch themselves into space by mistake and need to learn to survive on the space station.
  • Licensing Management International represented the International Space Archives for a licensed merchandise program. The International Space Archives’ holdings include digital photos, films, and videos from NASA as well as content from the space programs of Russia, Japan, the European Union, India, and China. Licensees have included New Era Caps and About Blank for apparel and accessories and The Westminster Collection for commemorative medals based on NASA Mission Patches.
  • Lego launched space-themed building sets, ranging from the Lego City Mars Exploration set to the Lego Ideas Women of NASA set, and beyond. It also plans a range of space-themed live events and an educational program with Scholastic for use in Title I school districts (those with 40% of their students identified as low-income).
  • Peanuts Worldwide worked with NASA on a venture involving classroom curriculum and publishing through licensees Simon & Schuster and KaBoom! The characters have also been featured in a space-themed apparel collaboration with Land’s End, an art installation at Johnson Space Center, and a space-themed Apple+ TV “documentary,” among other initiatives. These efforts mark the 50th anniversary of Apollo 10, which circled the Earth in May 1969, just before the moon landing; the original call signs for the spacecraft used in this flight were “Charlie Brown” and “Snoopy.” Snoopy was also featured in safety materials for NASA’s Apollo program in the 1960s.

Most of these initiatives, which represent a fraction of the total space-themed consumer products and marketing landscape this summer, are timed to the anniversaries of the various missions of the Apollo program, and as such are a means to latch onto the current zeitgeist. But many also play into broader themes such as STEM education and female empowerment. And, while most are intended as short-term initiatives, some will, their creators hope, live on.

It should be noted that there is no licensing agreement or exclusivity when working with NASA, a government agency. But NASA must approve all products to ensure they adhere to strict guidelines and policies, developed through legislation and regulation, about how its assets can be used on merchandise. For example, there can be no usage that hints at NASA being involved in endorsing or promoting an item, NASA’s logo cannot be used together with a commercial logo to suggest co-branding, and NASA’s name cannot be incorporated into the name of a product collection.

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