by Chris Tobias
The failure of SpaceX’s seventh commercial resupply mission may have some in Washington doubting the reliability of the Falcon 9 and Dragon, but if merchandise sales alone are any indication, SpaceX’s workhorse rocket and space capsule haven’t lost any popularity with the general public, and it looks like Dragon remains the real “belle of the ball.”
How would I know this? Well, just four days ago (August 11) I had the pleasure of visiting the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. That’s something I’ll talk a lot more about in a future post, but for now I’d like to share one particular experience to make my point. As with most Florida attractions, the Visitor Complex at Kennedy Space Center has a rather substantial gift shop, where visitors can buy everything from books about space authored by astronauts to patches from historic missions and replica space suits. A guy like me could easily blow a day’s wages in a place like that and justify it by convincing himself that the money was going to further the efforts of the American space program. When we had finished our tour of the launch facilities and the various other attractions (including Space Shuttle Atlantis on static display), I naturally had to pay “The Space Store” a visit before our group left the complex to spend the rest of the afternoon at Cocoa Beach.
As I approached the main gift shop, the first thing I noticed was a window display that featured mannequins wearing “Occupy Mars” t-shirts! “Hey,” I said to myself, “Those are SpaceX shirts! What’re they doing here? This is a NASA gift shop…” No sooner had those thoughts flashed through my mind than the shop’s automatic doors opened before me to reveal a very large display right in the front of the store featuring an array of familiar SpaceX merchandise and a sign that said “New Arrival.” There were SpaceX t-shirts, hats and polo shirts in various colors, “Occupy Mars” t-shirts, hats and coffee mugs and t-shirts bearing the logos of both the Falcon 9 and the Dragon. Even more astounding than the selection was the fact that these items were being given prime real estate– right at the front of the store!
“How cool,” I thought. “NASA must be showing a little love to its Commercial Crew partners by carrying their merchandise in its shops.” After a quick look around the store, though, that theory fell out of the sky faster than a ship with a Capissen-38 engine. Not only could I not find any CST-100 merchandise, there was no Boeing merchandise of any kind to be found anywhere, let alone at the store’s front entrance. I had to conclude that the marketing push was strictly “a SpaceX thing,” and I’d be lying if I said that didn’t tickle me a bit.
I’d seen all of this SpaceX merchandise before. It had been available at the SpaceX shop online for months. But something about finding it here– in a NASA gift shop at Kennedy Space Center on my vacation– made me want to “vote with my dollar” and show my support for SpaceX by finally buying that Dragon t-shirt I’d had my eye on for some time.
The only problem was, I couldn’t find the Dragon t-shirt in my size! When it comes to t-shirts, I wear a large, and there were no large Dragon t-shirts on the racks. There were large SpaceX shirts, and large “Occupy Mars” and Falcon 9 shirts, but as I’m sure you already know, we here at Take Back the Sky are all about the Dragon, and nothing short of a Dragon t-shirt in that regal-looking black and purple was going to do for me. So, of course, I asked the first store employee I could find if he could check to see if they had any large Dragon t-shirts in the back of store waiting to be brought out onto the racks. He was more than happy to check for me, but after a few minutes he returned with the news that the Dragon t-shirts were, in fact, sold out in my size. Dejected, I settled for purchasing a “Failure Is Not an Option” magnet with the Apollo 13 mission patch on it for the desk in my classroom, and silently vowed to purchase the Dragon t-shirt online the first chance I got.
Later that night, I logged onto SpaceX’s website in our hotel room at the resort, intent on buying my Dragon shirt. To my disappointment, the t-shirt was sold out in my size (and most other adult sizes as well) on the website, as were the Dragon baseball cap and polo shirt. I would get similar results at every website I checked that sold SpaceX merchandise, including NASA’s online shop, as well as the Space Store at the Orlando airport when I stopped in a couple days later on the way home.
At first, I thought the sudden run on Dragon merchandise was because SpaceX had recently changed the Dragon logo. As a sports fan, I’m well aware that a logo change often sparks merchandise sales, and as a new logo becomes more common, the “retro” logo is sometimes seen as trendy. SpaceX had used a new Dragon logo that featured a stylized dragon’s head in profile for the two most recent launches, so perhaps this was the reason why merchandise with the original logo was so scarce. Another visit to the SpaceX website told me a different story, however, as I discovered that merchandise with the new Dragon logo was just as difficult to obtain in the most popular sizes as merchandise with the original logo.
Given that evidence, I can only find one reason for the popularity of Dragon merchandise: people must think the Dragon is just plain sexy, in much the same way that Apple made mobile devices and computing not only commonplace, but downright hip. Jeff already discussed in a previous post the buzz the unveiling of the Dragon v2 caused on the internet, and I think its merchandise sales are an indication that that buzz never really died down. Even though she has yet to break atmo with a human crew, the Dragon is a spaceship that the public is already excited about– a ship that will return American astronauts to space, built by a company that epitomizes the American dream. Regardless of which logo is used, people associate the Dragon with qualities like freedom, independence, perseverance and a pioneering spirit– qualities that we Browncoats hold in high regard. People want to feel a part of that, and that’s why they want to wear the Dragon logo just like they would the logo of one of their favorite sports teams.
That’s also one reason why we believe the Dragon is the perfect spacecraft to bear the name Serenity. If you agree, then please take a moment to write a letter to Elon Musk at SpaceX and tell him so (and while you’re at it, you could always send one to Gwynne Shotwell too). And if you haven’t signed our online petition, all it takes is a quick click and a few taps of the keyboard to add your name to the thousands who already have.
We have a ship. She has a crew. And if the sales of her merchandise are any indication, she’s already getting the love that’ll keep her in the air. Now all she needs is a name– so let’s tell Elon Musk we got a shiny one all picked out…
Peace, love and rockets.