A Japanese Soda Company Will Be the First to Advertise on the Moon

This Moon-marketing mission isn’t as bad as it seems. Sort of.

Image: Lunar Dream

Well, it’s finally happening. Forty-five years after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed at the Sea of Tranquility, the Moon is about to become an ad space. The Japanese drink company Otsuka is planning to send a 2.2-pound titanium can filled with “powdered sports drink and children’s dreams” to the Moon, where it will sit for the ages as off-world marketing.

This Moon-marketing mission isn’t as bad as it seems. Sort of. Landing a can on the lunar surface isn’t the primary goal of a mission. It’s part of a sponsorship deal with the Pittsburgh-based aerospace company Astrobiotic Technology.

Astrobiotic is competing for the Google Lunar X prize, a $20-million boon that will go to the first company to land a payload on the lunar surface that can travel at least 1,640 feet and also transmit high-definition images back to Earth. To build a spacecraft like that and buy a spot on a launch vehicle, Astrobiotic needs sponsors, and that’s where Otsuka comes in.

Otsuka is providing Astrobiotic with funding in the vicinity of half a million dollars in exchange for a very specific delivery: the can filled with a powdered version of its popular Pocari Sweat sports drink. The “children’s wishes” come in the form of letters sent to the company, which were etched on silver disks and transported with the can. Otsuka says it hopes the can on the Moon will be like a prize for children, that they’ll all want to be astronauts and be the first to crack open the can of Moon-drink.

This isn’t the first time the Moon has (or will be, in this case) used in advertising. We see marketing using astronaut and lunar imagery pretty often. There’s the Goodyear tire commercial that uses footage of Apollo 16 astronauts driving the lunar rover, the Bridgestone commercial showing astronauts offroading on the Moon, and the Axe “Nothing Beats an Astronaut” ads. There’s even a company interested in “shadow shaping” the surface of the Moon, moving the regolith around such that at certain times of the lunar day, a giant advertisement can be seen from Earth.

But using the Moon as a place to essentially leave trash for the sake of advertising is something different, especially since this isn’t going to be a megacan than we will see from Earth.

Image: Lunar Dream

Of course, there is a fair bit of trash already on the Moon. In addition to the dead spacecraft, lunar module descent stags, and crashed rocket stages, there’s a lot of junk up there. Weight was a constant issue on Apollo missions, and when astronauts left the lunar surface with Moon rocks in tow, they had to get rid of material that they didn’t need for the return trip home.

Neil Armstrong’s boots are still up there, as are a fair few fecal containment bags and bags of garbage that the crew couldn’t bring home. There are also mementos like C. C. William’s astronaut wings and a photograph of Charlie Duke’s family.

The difference between the debris left at the Apollo landing site and sending a can of powdered sports drink to the Moon is that the former is a part of our human history and the latter is a stunt. And in recent years, steps have been taken to preserve the junk at the Apollo landing sites. The Apollo Lunar Landing Legacy Act seeks to preserve the Apollo sites just as they are for future generations. Preserving these sites will serve to preserve the public’s understanding of just how the Apollo missions worked, and what man’s first steps off the Earth really looked like.

The other sticking point for using the Moon as an ad space is rooted in the Moon Agreement, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 1979. Building off the Outer Space Treaty, the Moon Agreement stipulates that all bodies be used for peaceful purposes, that their environments be left undisrupted, and that their environments and resources belong jointly to all mankind.

Whether a can of powdered sports drink violates the Moon Agreement is sort of unclear, though it does seem like a questionable use of the Moon’s landscape. The Astrobiotic mission isn't slated to launch until 2015, so we’ll have to wait and see what cargo it does carry up to and leave on the lunar surface.