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.