As Seen on TV (and in Space!)
A chicken sandwich being sent to space — well, sort of, more on that later — all in the name of selling more chicken sandwiches. Is this what they meant by commercial spaceflight? For better or worse, here is a look back at the brief history of television advertisements being filmed off the planet.
Milk in Space
The first-ever commercial shot in space (earning it a Guinness World Record) was an advertisement for Tnuva Milk. The Israeli "long life" milk was launched to the former Russian space station Mir, where cosmonaut Vasily Tsibliyev appeared on video drinking — or rather gobbling up — a white milk bubble while ground control looked on. The commercial, which aired in August 1997, wasn't only a first for advertising but also the first time astronauts drank milk in space.
In what probably should have been a warning of things to come, RadioShack tried to drive up its 2001 Father's Day sales by sending an "out of this world" gift to a dad on board the International Space Station. Russian cosmonauts Talgat Musabayev and Yuri Baturin were filmed surprising their crewmate Yuri Usachev with a present from his 12-year-old daughter Evgenia.
"It's all about helping people stay connected, wherever your travels may take you," Jim McDonald, then-senior vice president of marketing and advertising for RadioShack Corp., said in a statement.
What else do you get the "best father in the world" — and, apparently, off it? A "talking picture frame" from RadioShack. [9 Weird Things That Flew on NASA's Space Shuttles]
From the world's biggest manufacturer of instant noodles — including "Space Ram," a microgravity-friendly ramen — came the first advertisement for noodles in space. Nissin Foods collaborated with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency in 2005 to film cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev rehydrating and enjoying the company's Cup Noodles brand instant ramen noodle snack. The resulting TV commercial aired in Japan as a part of Nissin's "Cup Noodle No Border" campaign. [Space Food Photos: What Astronauts Eat in Orbit]
And then there was Pepsi. "The Choice of the Next Generation" was unabashed in its desire to use space to promote its soft drink. Unlike Coca-Cola, Pepsi touted its flight aboard the space shuttle in 1985 on the back of soda cans it sold on Earth and distributed replicas of its shaving-cream-can-inspired dispenser.
In 1996, as Coca-Cola flew its dispenser on the space shuttle, Pepsi opted to film a commercial, sending an oversize "can," promoting its new blue design, to the Russian Mir space station. Pepsi claimed it was the first commercial shot in outer space, as it was filmed outside the orbiting complex during a spacewalk.
When is a commercial product seen in space not a commercial? When it is a science experiment. Though much was made in the news of the 1980s "Cola Wars" reaching orbit, Coca-Cola's launch of a "space can" (followed later by a full dispenser, pressurized cup and bottles) aboard the space shuttle was not intended as an advertisement for the soft drink.
Rather, Coca-Cola, in partnership with Martin Marietta (today, Lockheed Martin) and several universities, was focused on the long-range objective of advancing fluid management technology in microgravity. The beverage giant was also interested in advancing hardware to carbonate liquids on demand and to mix and dispense beverages with minimal loss of carbonation, for use in space and on Earth. [Coca-Cola Returns Soda to Outer Space in New Olympics Ad]
Proving that "no one out-pizzas the Hut" (15 years before it adopted that slogan), Pizza Hut delivered a 6-inch salami pizza to the International Space Station in 2001. (Salami was used because apparently pepperoni did not withstand a 60-day testing process.)
"From this day forward, Pizza Hut pizza will go down in history as the world's first pizza to be delivered to and eaten in space," Randy Gier, then-chief marketing officer of Pizza Hut Inc., said in a statement.
In 2014, Pizza Hut combined the footage of its space pizza with an earlier promotion that put its logo on the side of a Russian Proton rocket for a TV commercial that demonstrated its "greatness."
Space Chair Project
Three years before actor and director Clint Eastwood inexplicably spoke to an empty chair during the 2012 Republican National Convention, Toshiba sent an empty chair to space — sort of. On Sept. 26 and Sept. 27, 2009, JP Aerospace carried four red, empty chairs into the stratosphere (the edge of space) using large helium balloons to film a TV commercial that played in Europe and Japan.
"Armchair viewing, redefined," Toshiba declared in the spot, promoting its Regza HD TVs.
Lowe's & Made In Space
"Helping people accomplish their mission, on or off the planet." That's the tagline in a 2016 spot for Lowe's Home Improvement promoting the partnership between Made In Space — the maker of the first 3D printer deployed in space — and Lowe's Innovation Labs. Though the video does not include footage shot in space for the promotion, it does feature the additive-manufacturing device itself, which includes a prominent Lowe's logo on its front.
"It is the first hardware store in space," Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe's Innovation Labs, said in an interview with Space.com. "Lowe's sells tools on Earth, and this way, we're going to be able to provide tools in space as well."
KFC Zinger 1 Mission
That brings us back to the chicken sandwich. To promote its Zinger spicy, crispy chicken sandwich, KFC designed an animatronic, bucket-shaped satellite and partnered with World View Enterprises to launch it to (the edge of) space on a Stratollite, a platform capable of controlled flight in the stratosphere.
With actor Rob Lowe putting his own spacesuited spin on Colonel Sanders, KFC promoted the Zinger 1 space mission in television commercials and online throughout the first half of 2017. The sandwich won't be consumed upon landing, but it was ready to take a selfie, tweet, drop a coupon from altitude and deploy a flag all while on livestreaming HD video. Spaceflight has never been so finger lickin' good.
But wait, there's more!
Make no mistake: The future of commercials being shot in space (or near space) is bright, especially with commercial spacecraft coming online from SpaceX, Boeing, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and World View — to say nothing of the plans for commercial space stations or habitats. As commercial activities take over Earth orbit and beyond, there are bound be those eager to beam their products' virtues back to those on the ground.