Elon Musk has had a bad pandemic. It appears he likes to be the center of both attention and controversy. His comments about the pandemic brought plenty of both as did his promises to deliver ventilators to hospitals in need. GM delivered 30,000 ventilators last month while Tesla had only bought some from third parties to donate. The media coverage has not been kind.
The coronavirus panic is dumb— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 6, 2020
Despite those troubles, Musk's SpaceX is set to change the tone of the conversation, both about him and the US. NASA and SpaceX are set to launch the first manned space mission from the US since 2011, weather permitting. Many see it as a return to form for the US aerospace industry – a triumph of American engineering know-how.
The mission, dubbed Crew Demo-2, will send two American astronauts to the International Space Station. Some in the industry will debate if this is a huge leap forward. The mission will repeat what was done routinely for many years before the last Space Shuttle flew in 2011. But at a time when everyone is looking for good news to celebrate, the attention will probably be focused on the positive aspects of the mission. Both NASA and Elon Musk are trying to use the event for maximum marketing effect.
US Space Power
The most obvious marketing benefit is for NASA and the US as a whole. Relations with Russia being what they are, the sight of American astronauts taking off from the US will be used to maximum effect. Made in the USA might have more emotional impact now than at any point in the past two decades.
For reasons that aren't clear, SpaceX and NASA have decided to use an old version of the NASA logo for the mission. The "worm" logo was officially used from 1975. The most interesting theory I've heard is that Elon Musk just really likes the 80s, with the Tesla Cyber Truck design as proof.
Regardless of the actual reason, the logo definitely sends us back to a time when NASA was universally seen as an innovator at the top of their game. In 1975, NASA, fresh off the Apollo moon missions, was entertaining many futuristic projects. One of these became the Space Shuttle. Both Elon Musk and NASA will benefit from the nostalgia, as commentators will inevitably talk about the history of US spaceflight before and after Crew Demo-2.
Car and rocket cobranding
The astronauts will ride in a Tesla Model X on their way to the SpaceX rocket tomorrow. NASA has traditionally used its own vehicles for this function, but this mission is different. The Commercial Crew Program has given more responsibility to contractors before, during, and after missions. Musk probably got to choose, so of course he chose a vehicle manufactured by that other company he runs.
The license plate for the DM-2 Tesla Model X pic.twitter.com/MkVrhSZ7ib— TJ Cooney 🚀 (@TJ_Cooney) May 24, 2020
The upward-opening doors also feel like they're from the 80s, no? And those space suits.
Maybe the best news of all is for Tesla and SpaceX investors. Elon Musk is talking mostly about the launch, which is safe territory for him. Investors are probably hoping he'll avoid talking about sensitive topics and stick to what he does best – promoting SpaceX and Tesla.