Monday, 7 March 2016

The very best place to spend a day on Earth?

In Marketing, superlatives are good.

You don’t want to announce that you’ve just launched another product to do the same thing as a whole bunch of others out there. You don’t even want to claim it does those things better. To get attention, you have to claim that it’s the first to do what it does, or the best, though of course not the cheapest: cheap is bad, though cost effective is great and value for money’s good too.

In that respect, the visitor centre (or should I say center?) at the Kennedy Space Centre (ditto) is right up there with best. The brightest. The biggest.

Sunset at the Rocket Garden
So in Marketing terms, it’s a shining example of best practice (among the very best). It’s also a fun place to visit, not just because you can see the actual launch pads with the huge gantries from which rockets are fired, or walk along a Saturn V rocket hanging from a ceiling to get a real sense of the scale of these things, but because the setting, in the middle of a nature reserve just pulsing with wildlife, is pretty impressive (among the brightest). But for this fan of the understated, it does seem to slightly overdo the superlatives (among the over-the-toppest).

By the end of the visit, I was becoming a little tired of being told that those rockets represented the most complex imaginable science. Really? It’s like the hoary old saying “it’s not rocket science.” It’s hard to imagine anything much simpler than rocket science. You mix two highly inflammable liquids and then set fire to them. Please don’t tell me that there’s anything surprising about the fact that the resulting explosion is powerful enough, if you use sufficient quantities of the stuff, to hurl even a massive object into orbit. The complexity comes in the engineering which has to make sure that the object hurled actually makes it into orbit in one piece, rather than being blown to fragments. But the science? Pretty elementary. Compared, say, to the subtleties of quantum mechanics or relativistic physics.

I also found myself jaded by all the talk about the heroes who took the plunge into the hazardous unknown with a US flag on their shoulders. Not because I question their courage, but because I’m not sure others haven’t taken equal risks before. After all, Christopher Columbus who did as much as anyone to lay the foundations for the US, sailed off into the unknown with no assurance of getting anywhere, no real idea of where he was going, or any guarantee of getting back. That the men (and why weren’t there more women even in the early days?) who pioneered space travel were right up there with the most daring I’ll happily accept; that no-one came near them, I won’t.

Still, there was one claim I had to accept: that the world expects the US to lead the way in further space exploration. All across the site, there was NASA promotional material for a manned expedition to Mars. It was a theme that kept recurring with almost obsessive frequency, with even one large display area devoted to winning support for it, and an Imax film on the subject. That had to be impressive, since we still haven’t solved what strikes me as the fundamental problem, which is how to keep people alive during such an extended exposure to the background radiation of space. It’s hard not to feel that if anyone can come up with a solution, it has to be the US.

Russia and China simply don’t have the means, and perhaps don’t have the same determination to address this kind of challenge. As for Europe – well, it would be a good thing if it stopped tearing itself apart first, a message that Britain above all needs to hear. By default, that means it’s going to mean the US lead the way – which is fine, because they certainly achieve results.

All that makes it fun to visit the Kennedy Space Centre (OK, OK, I’m not going to reverse that r and e). Entertaining and instructive. But can I give my Marketing colleagues the ultimate accolade they crave and declare it the very best way to spend a day imaginable?

I wouldnt perhaps go quite that far...

No comments: