NASA astronauts to shoot a cosmetic brand’s ad in space

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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Representational Image

For two decades, the International Space Station (ISS) has served as the most unique laboratory in the world, carrying hundreds of research experiments and astronaut crews.

ISS is a modular low Earth orbit space station. It is a global joint project initiated in 1998 involving space agencies from the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and the European Space Agency’s participating countries. It is one of the most ambitious international partnerships ever attempted and the largest space station ever to be built.

But now the American space agency NASA (National Aeronautics & Space Administration), one of the main operators of the space station, is planning to oversee the greatest push of business activity onto the ISS.

Up to 10 bottles of a new Estée Lauder (EL) skin care serum will be sent to the space station later this month, a NASA spokesman said. In the ISS microgravity setting, NASA astronauts are required to film the products and the company will be able to use the footage in ad campaigns or other promotional content.

The Estée Lauder products, a new formulation of the company’s “Advanced Night Repair” skin serum, are set to launch on board a spacecraft from Northrop Grumman Cygnus, tucked along with 8,000 pounds of other inventory, experiments and supplies. NASA astronauts will be tasked with capturing the product’s “photos and videos.”

Private sector investment

If the footage is used in a commercial, it wouldn’t be the first space-filmed advertisement, nor would it be the first time NASA has collaborated with corporate advertisers. But it will mark one of NASA’s most notable instances of giving up an American portion of the space station to catch a product’s zero-gravity video.

The US based Estée Lauder’s collaboration will continue NASA’s long-standing drive to promote private-sector investment on space initiatives as the space agency aims to expand its budget beyond the ISS and concentrate on returning astronauts to deep space. These initiatives include allowing for the use of the space station for marketing and entertainment purposes.

NASA’s space commercialization strategies include encouraging “sponsorship and marketing” activities on the space station, as well as in-space production, tourism, and “entertainment video products” such as films and documentaries. NASA announced in 2019 that it will devote up to 90 hours of work time from astronauts and assign 400 pounds of cargo delivery annually to private companies to use for these purposes.

In short, the aim is to stimulate wider interest in extraterrestrial business activity and allow NASA to cover costs.

Will the astronauts appear in the ad?

No, the astronauts themselves will not feature in any cosmetics ads as the ethical rules of the space agency specifically prohibit astronauts from appearing in marketing campaigns.

Who will pay?

NASA will manage the mission’s expenses. While Estée Lauder’s project partner, Space Commerce Matters, is expected to reimburse about $128,000 under the deal, which is only a fraction of what the overall project is expected to cost.

Other collaborations

NASA has signed a number of Space Act agreements with numerous companies including Adidas – the athletic wear company. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine revealed earlier this year that actor Tom Cruise has landed an agreement with the space agency to film a movie on ISS. The timing and specifics of that project are not announced yet.

NASA’s willingness to extend its private-sector collaborations is nothing new. The space agency has already outsourced cargo transport to and from the ISS and, more recently, SpaceX has become the first organization ever to take over astronaut transportation from NASA.