Space Suit of the Week.

A lot of things are for sale on TV. Easily my favorite is a precious half-hour on public access where the members of a local Baptist church sell goods donated by the congregation. What’s so great about the live TV show is that the goods are dumped on a table and sold in lots.  “E’rything on the table for $40 bucks.  We got some fancy Ninja Swords, a Gateway computer, Beanie Babies… lots of real nice stuff!” A telephone number flashes across the bottom of the screen.  At the top of the screen is the lower half of the steadfast Ten Commandments.

It’s so straightforward: here is some stuff to buy. What’s more tricky is a few channels over on the Home Shopping Network, HSN. It’s not merely the brightly-lit sets and glossy graphics, but a whole host of marketing and rhetorical strategies that assault the viewer. How can you not buy the hairspray when it’s so cheap… and used by the cast of Days of Our Lives?  By the time the side-by-side comparison shows a demographically-determined make over, you’re dialing the 1-800-number.  Right?

So what does this have to do with Space? If you’ve ever heard of Tang, you might have a clue.  Space sells a lot of stuff, too.  Tang, for the unfamiliar, is a powder that you add to water if you want to drink orange-flavored water. Tang became popular after John Glenn drank some during the Mercury flight, and somewhere along the way a persistent rumor emerged that Tang was invented by NASA.  It was not. The real story according to the History Channel: “There was a particular component of the Gemini life support-system module which produced H2O among other things. This was a byproduct of a recurring chemical reaction of one of the mechanical devices on the life-support module. The astronauts would use this water to drink during their space flight. The problem was, the astronauts did not like the taste of the water because of some of the byproducts produced, which were not harmful of course. So, they added Tang to make the water taste better.”

Another thing you may not have known: last week I quietly celebrated my 25th birthday. I’m getting at the age where I ask for useful things like new tires and prescription sunglasses for my birthday. However, I did receive one not-entirely-useful gift last week that has been making me think about space and commerce.  The photo above is the cover of that gift: a comic from 1951 about a chocolate powdered drink. But not just any chocolate powered drink, one that enables an American Serviceman-Astronaut to defeat a space villain.

The comic is illustrated by Bob Powell, who compares the discovery of Inapak to similarly innovative discoveries like electricity and the atomic bomb. The storyline of the comic involves the first man landing on the moon in 1984, discovering life and a sinister plot to destroy the earth. Lukily, Major Inapak enjoys the benefits of his namesake,  including: good red blood, sturdy muscles and plenty of pep. Evildoers don’t stand a chance.

All of the information I can find about this drink online relates only this this comic, and I have no idea what happened to the drink company from Chicago. Inapak certainly isn’t unique in using rockets as marketing bandwagons, but their wagon was hitched to the wrong star.  Nobody knows who Major Inapak is; they should have given a lifetime supply to John Glenn.


July 23, 2010