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Cape Canaveral commercialism - The Lowbrow Lowdown

They hobnob with North Korea and they make deals to sell weapons to Iran. Despite this, we Americans insist on following Russia's lead in outer space, writes Kate Kay.

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In fact, now we're following their lead when it comes to commercialising space.

According to a October 7 report, a NASA draft document indicates that the administration would seek "family friendly corporate sponsors" to promote the International Space Station as a tourist destination and push the NASA brand through merchandise sales.

Although NASA is still finalising the policy, folks are weighing-in on the issue. Rick Tumlinson, president of the Space Frontier Foundation, opines, "They've totally blown the management of the International Space Station, and so they're kind of like looking for what I call million-dollar solutions to billion-dollar problems."

"Space tourism is not a role for the federal government. This needs to be a private sector endeavour," NASA administrator Daniel Goldin adds.

Well, it was only a matter of time before outer space became a commercial district. Hey, in a few hundred years, space marketing consultants and inter-orbital ad network execs will look back and laugh at the naysayers who worried about the commercial corruption of the great beyond. As for the here and now, I'm more concerned with the safety of space travel and tourism. On these flights to the International Space Station, will the doors to mission control be secure? Will space marshals be present to protect shuttle passengers? And, most importantly, will there be launch pad-side check-in?

Digital Downfall

The thought of more public broadcasting stations running programming is promising. When the heightened quality of digital transmission is thrown into the mix, it's even more impressive. Toss in the recent FCC decision regarding additional public television channels, however, and pop goes the bubble.

Recently, The Federal Communications Commission voted that when it comes to the five or six new digital public TV channels, "rules banning advertising on over-the-air non-commercial educational stations didn't apply", according to an October 12 Wall Street Journal article.

A peek at the official FCC release reveals that it might not be as scary as it seems. The ad prohibition still applies to broadcast programming, but not to "any ancillary or supplementary services" like computer software, interactive materials and subscription video.

The fact remains that the "substantial majority" of what public stations, including the new ones, are required to pump out must be non-commercial and educational. Still, even FCC Commissioner Michael Copps believes that the ruling "has the potential to warp the nation's image of public television and to endanger the identity and even the viability of a national treasure."

Speaking of public TV and endangered identity, the likeness of one of America's favourite PBS stars, Sesame Street's Bert, has been popping up in pro-Osama Bin Laden propaganda images lately. Check out the Yahoo! news story. Is Bert a Bin Laden supporter? Who knows, but if public TV had been subject to more commercial influence in the past, we may have seen Bert featured in Pokemon and Nike propaganda pieces by now. To tell you the truth, I'm not sure whether that's much better.

Daylight come and me want a website

Mere days after September 11, scores of home-recorded tunes commemorating the events flooded their way into radio station mailrooms across the US. It seemed as though one in five four-track recordings was a parody of the Harry Belafonte hit Day-O/Banana Boat Song, replacing "tally mon" with "Taliban." The cover song craze was understandable -- still, it was difficult to fathom concentrating on anything at all, much less songwriting.

Apparently, some folks were able to distance themselves from the immobilising shock, confusion and grief, even as the twin towers toppled, and take action. Yes, as featured in a October 1 story, a throng of enterprising people around the world had the same disturbing notion: "Hmmm... the World Trade Center is on fire and people are dying. What can I do? I know! I'll get a domain name."

"I knew that if I was going to do anything, I was going to have to act fast," Connecticut resident Jim Burke recalls in the report. He scored

From and to and, one Network Solutions search led to another. Many, according to the article, are "implicitly or explicitly for sale".

The Lowbrow Lowdown lackeys visited a number of the domains mentioned in the Salon piece. Most sites are either "under construction" or "not found". A few domains hold actual websites. Some, as noted in the Salon story, redirect to porn sites. But, overall, there is little indication that the domain owners have followed up on their September 11 shopping spree by selling the domains or creating sites.

Whether or not they aimed to profit from their purchases, I'm glad they (evidently) have not. However, I am curious about where this phenomenon could lead for the folks who partook in this detached act of commerce. If their knee-jerk reaction to catastrophic events becomes automatic domain name registration, I hope tragedy never strikes them on a personal level. As if things aren't depressing enough lately, can you imagine an internet full of sites named things like, or Now that's what I call rough.

That's not all. For additional commentary on these and other stories, visit The Lowbrow Lowdown.

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