Audi Rockets to Super Bowl with Apollo Astronaut-Themed Ad

Audi's Super Bowl 50 Ad
Audi’s 2016 Super Bowl 50 ad, "The Commander," tells the story of a retired astronaut who rediscovers his lust for life. (Image credit: Audi USA)

A new TV commercial set to air during the Super Bowl blends the imagery of NASA's Apollo program with the score of David Bowie's "Starman" to challenge car buyers to "choose the moon."

Audi on Wednesday (Feb. 3) debuted its astronaut-themed ad, "Commander," which is scheduled to run Sunday (Feb. 7) during the first quarter of the game between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers football teams. [Video: Audi’s "The Commander" Super Bowl Ad]

The 60-second spot opens on a (fictional) retired astronaut sitting solemnly, while surrounded by memorabilia from the golden age of space exploration. When his son hands over the keys to an Audi R8 V10 Plus, he gets behind the wheel and relives the thrill of a Saturn V-rocket-like ride under the stars.

"The legacy of the first moon landing lives on at Audi. The same spirit of discovery drives us to dream, innovate and explore, from creating a car that goes 205 mph [330 km/h] to building a lunar rover," the car company proclaimed on its website. "It's why we're constantly pushing the boundaries of what's possible."

"Choosing the moon brings out the best in us," concluded the automobile manufacturer, repeating the tagline from its commercial, which itself is a reference to the "choose the moon" speech President John F. Kennedy gave in 1961 to challenge the United States to send men to the moon.

Scott Keogh, president of Audi USA, and Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan at the 2016 North American Auto Show in Detroit in January 2016. (Image credit: Audi USA)

Audi on Wednesday also rolled out a 90-second version of the commercial on YouTube. The spot was created by San Francisco-based Venables Bell & Partners.

In addition to NASA footage of Saturn V rockets launching to the moon, the ad also features the 1972 song "Starman" by David Bowie, who died on Jan. 10. The song, one of Bowie's most famous tracks, has received renewed attention as of late, in part due to the singer's passing, but also because it was featured in the movie "The Martian."

Audi first teased the Super Bowl ad in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, where a real Apollo commander took the stage.

"Is there an interest in cars? An interest in space? Is there interest in innovation? There it is, folks," said Gene Cernan, commander of the Apollo 17 mission, which was the last to land astronauts on the moon in 1972.

In addition to promoting the new R8, the fastest and most powerful Audi of all time, the ad is also a subtle reference the company's involvement in the Google Lunar X Prize. In June 2015, Audi partnered with the Berlin-based team Part-Time Scientists to build the Audi Lunar Quattro rover, an entry in the private moon race.

The four-wheeled rover is targeted to launch to the moon next year on a robotic mission to land in the Taurus-Littrow valley, where Cernan and Harrison Schmitt drove a Lunar Roving Vehicle during Apollo 17.

Audi is not the first car company to draw inspiration from space for its Big Game commercials. In 2013 during Super Bowl XLVII (47), Toyota aired an ad featuring footage of its Tundra truck towing space shuttle Endeavour through the streets of Los Angeles, on its way to the California Science Center for display.

Watch the extended cut of Audi’s Super Bowl ad, "The Commander," at

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Robert Z. Pearlman Editor, Contributor

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.