The recent news that the astronauts on the international space station were gifted by a shipment of Blue Bell ice cream brought a smile to the faces of many people who live in Texas and have come to appreciate its creamy goodness. For most Texans, there is Blue Bell, and there are all of the other inferior brands of ice cream (and don’t even mention that hippy confection, Ben and Jerry’s.) The fact that Blue Bell has become, in effect, the supplier of ice cream to the astronauts brings to mind other delicacies that have become associated with space exploration, to be more specific, Tang.

What was Tang and why did it become so famous?

Contrary to popular opinion, NASA did not invent Tang. The Powdered Drink Mix pre-existed the space program. Its sales were relatively weak before someone at the space agency hit on the bright idea of adding a powder to water and allowing the early astronauts a fruity drink with vitamin C included. The sales of the official powdered drink mix for the astronauts soared. The company took full advantage of the association with commercials that highlighted its use by astronauts. Sales of Tang have declined since the end of the Apollo program, with so many better-tasting alternatives available. However, people of a certain age will always remember having it with their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

How Blue Bell can capitalize

To be sure, now that the listeria outbreak has been resolved, sales of Blue Bell are climbing again. However, one might think that the company could capitalize on its status as the official ice cream for the astronauts in the same way Tang did for its product in the 1960s.

One can imagine commercials that depict astronauts on the International Space Station scarfing up their cups of Blue Bell.

Eventually, since people are likely to be returning to the moon in due course, the company can try to arrange for creating the first ice cream to be eaten on the lunar surface. The commercial can shift to footage of some of the folks watching the live stream of the mission back home. In this way, Blue Bell can expand from a regional favorite to the king of all ice cream worldwide and beyond.

On a broader perspective, people have been wondering why the United States is spending “all that money” on space exploration. While some econometric analysis suggests that the Apollo program more than paid for itself due to economic stimulus and technology spinoffs, the question is a fair one. Future space exploration will have a money making aspect, with lunar and asteroid mining and space tourism. However, as Tang proved decades ago and Blue Bell might prove now, product placement is nothing to sneer at.

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