Trump campaign pulls space-themed ad after complaints

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WASHINGTON — The reelection campaign of President Donald Trump has taken down an online ad tied to the recent Demo-2 commercial crew launch after complaints it appeared to violate NASA media guidelines, and criticism from one person who appeared in it.

The ad, titled “Make Space Great Again!”, was posted on YouTube June 3 by the Trump campaign. Running about two and a half minutes, the ad featured a mix of historical footage, such as from the Apollo program, along with video from the May 30 launch of SpaceX’s Demo-2 commercial crew mission.

Trump attended that launch, and gave a speech at the Kennedy Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building shortly after the Crew Dragon spacecraft successfully reached orbit. But, while the ad included a voiceover by the president, it did not include his remarks from that launch. Instead, the ad appeared to primarily use a speech Trump gave in June 2018 at a meeting of the National Space Council at the White House.

“Once more, we will launch intrepid souls blazing through the sky and soaring into the heavens,” Trump said in a snippet of that 2018 speech played in the ad. “Once more, we will summon the American spirit to tame the next great American frontier.”

The ad makes extensive use of NASA and SpaceX video from the Demo-2 launch, including closeups of the mission’s crew, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. Many SpaceX employees, as well as company founder Elon Musk, appear in the video snippets included in the ad.

While NASA makes its images and video widely available, as does SpaceX on many occasions, the prominence of the astronauts in the video appears to be in violation of NASA’s media guidelines.

“Current NASA employees, including astronauts, may not appear in commercial material,” those guidelines state. “If a recognizable person, or talent (e.g., an astronaut or a noted personality engaged to narrate a film) appears in NASA material, use for commercial purposes may infringe a right of privacy or publicity. Permission should be obtained from the recognizable person or talent if the proposed use of the NASA material could be viewed as a commercial exploitation of that person.”

One person who appeared in the ad objected to it. “I find it disturbing that a video image of me and my son is being used in political propaganda without my knowledge or consent. That is wrong,” tweeted Karen Nyberg, a former astronaut who is married to Demo-2 astronaut Doug Hurley. She appears briefly in NASA footage of them wishing Hurley farewell as he and Behnken head to the launch pad.

Less than two hours after Nyberg’s tweet, the video had been removed from YouTube, apparently by the Trump campaign. “This video has been removed by the uploader,” a YouTube error message states. The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to an email with questions about the video.

Sources within both NASA and SpaceX, speaking on background, said they were not aware of the ad until after the campaign published it on YouTube. In its brief time online, it generated only a little more than 25,000 views, a small fraction of the traffic that popular videos on the site normally generate.

The video also prompted a petition on the Change.org website calling for its removal. That petition criticized the perception created by the ad that the commercial crew program was an initiative of the Trump administration. It noted that the program formally began during the Obama administration and built upon earlier projects by the Bush administration.

“The implication that any one person was responsible for the SpaceX-NASA Crew Demo-2 launch is an insult to the work of the teams that meaningfully contributed to its success,” stated the petition, which had nearly 4,500 signatories by the time the campaign removed the ad.

Others criticized it for a minor but embarrassing gaffe. In the opening frames of the ad, part of what appears to be a spacesuited astronaut appears on the screen. On the suit, partially obscured but still recognizable, is the logo not of NASA but of the European Space Agency.