Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Not About Science Anymore

Tim Swanson today posted a nice article on the Mises Institute about NASA, noting that the opinion of the agency is over-rated. Some of its more popular invention credentials are urban myth, its PR celebrates what should be routine and, of course, there is always the lingering question of lost opportunity (see my recent post on the subject).

NASA is a strange animal when it comes to political agencies. Yes, it is subject to all the shameless politics and waste any government organization is prone to but it is also a brand. When a company produces something based on NASA technology, they proudly proclaim it, knowing it raises the profile of the product. Eagle Eye sunglasses cites the government origin of their technology on their website. Better yet, in the Temper-Pedic commericals (where that dorky-looking guy jumps up and down next to the wine glass on the mattress to show motion is not transferred) the NASA logo leaps on the screen.

People have a lot of faith in NASA and this makes it easier on the agency to get big budgets and political support. They can fail utterly and not be punished for it, sometimes not even politically. By trumping every event as a success, they maintain a high public opinion and thus only have to produce a trivial amount of expensive and minor accomplishments.

The space shuttle was supposed to be a reuseable space craft that could land like an airplane and, now over thirty years old, the design is still celebrated every time it doesn't crash. That cameras still gather to report the launch and landing of the shuttle demonstrates that the vehicle is a failure and exposes the agency not as a scientific haven but a typical bureaucracy with atypical public relations.

Hat tip to Jeremy Horpedahl for sending me the Mises article.

1 comment:

Tim said...

Dorky looking guy jumping on a mattress? Ugh. Where I live, it's a nightie-clad model.

Is this just targeted advertising, and if so, what's that say about the respective markets? :-P