By Imogen Watson, Senior reporter

February 5, 2021 | 7 min read

Ushering in an era of commercial space exploration, we have now reached the point where sci-fi has become reality. On Sunday's Super Bowl viewers will be formally introduced to SpaceX's first all-civilian flight to outer orbit. And, thanks to a billionaire businessman, two tickets are up for grabs. The Drum talks to the creatives behind the campaign to raffle off these coveted seats.

From the moment Neil Armstrong took one small step for man, outer space has felt less, well... out of this world.

And now after years of relying on the imagination of directors from Stanley Kubrick to George Lucas to take us into space, thanks to the likes of Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, a new era in commercial spaceflight is about to become a reality.

While we're a long way off 'Skyscanning' the cheapest month to go to Mars, we now live in a world where anyone (as long as you've got a few million dollars to spare) can literally shoot for the stars.

Monday (February 1) marked a major milestone for the nascent space tourism industry when the billionaire chief exec of Shift4 Payments announced he is to commandeer the first all-civilian mission to space, on board the Dragon spacecraft, as part of SpaceX's Inspiration4 later this year.

“It's very automated,” assures Mark Feldstein, president and partner at Known Studios, the agency which was delivered the task of introducing the mission to the public. “It's a very safe mission, that's the whole point – they want to make space somewhere safe to travel to. It's no longer hypothetical or theatrical, you can seriously board that flight, without astronauts.”

Isaacman is offering up the remaining seats onboard the spacecraft with the ultimate aim of raising $200m for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, of which he has donated $100m. Each seat represents the mission's pillars of leadership, hope, generosity and prosperity. One seat has already been reserved for a St. Jude ambassador who represents hope.

Extending the invitation to one of the biggest stages the Earth has to offer – the Super Bowl – the 'generosity' seat will go to a lucky donor to St. Jude's fundraiser, while the 'prosperity' seat can be won by current and new Shift4Shop customers. All they have to do is enter an online competition showcasing their business and the winner will be chosen by a select panel of judges.

“We asked Known to help us conceptualize, brand and position the launch of the first all-civilian mission to outer space, sponsored by the launch of our pioneering new e-commerce platform,," explains a Shift4 spokesperson. “We wanted to use this historic human achievement to do the most good we possibly can, inspiring millions around the world with our mission of hope, generosity and prosperity.”

SpaceX commericial

A pup in ad agency years, Known Studios only emerged a year ago, billed as a modern marketing company engineered for the unprecedented challenges and opportunities facing marketers today. It can already boast Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Citi as its high-profile original clients, as well as Isaacman's Shift4 Payments. “We're combining science, strategy and creative seamlessly," explains Feldstein. “For years, they've been siloed and we brought them back together... like Pangea.”

He points to this project as a perfect example of this thinking. “We did all the strategy, the planning, the media buying, the creative, and all the optimization. We even designed the logo on the spacesuit. Every aspect of this process was handled by one agency. The goal is to raise as much money for St. Jude's as possible, using the mission itself as a representation of how far 'Inspiration' can take you.”

Notorious for being painstakingly meticulous when it came to the accuracy of his films (for Space Odyssey he sought the advice of robotics experts and employees of IBM) the team at Known took a leaf out of Kubrick's book. They surrounded themselves with SpaceX scientists and space experts, bringing together a bunch of filmmakers trained in depicting space so that people can absorb it vicariously through their TV screens.


Beyond chasing dinosaurs in Jurassic World, actress Bryce Dallas Howard has made her name in science fiction. The eldest daughter of Apollo 13 director Ron Howard, she has directed numerous episodes of Disney's Star Wars spin-off, 'The Mandalorian'. So Known knew she would be the perfect fit to direct the ad.

She was joined on set by John Schwartzman, an Oscar-winning director of photography. His credits include 'Jurassic World,' 'The Amazing Spider-Man' and 'Seabiscuit' as well as the team from ILM, who worked on the Star Wars film franchise.

The team worked together on a film that simply revolves around an authentic SpaceX suit, adorned with the patch that represents the mission's four pillars – leadership, hope, generosity and prosperity.

“John and Bryce know how to make a space helmet look pretty darn cool,” insists Brad Roth, founding partner of Known and president of the company’s creative studios division. “They took what was an inanimate object, which is the suit, and breathed humanity into it. They made it seem alive – to make everyone able to see themselves potentially in that suit.”

As the camera moves around the suit, the enchanting voice of aptly named Celeste crones the lullaby 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star' as Octavia Spencer's voice intones: “this fall, Inspiration4 launched as the first all-civilian mission to space, and to visit the mission’s website to learn more.”

“It's a childhood dream to go to space. Everyone as a kid looks up and wants to touch the stars,” explains Feldstein, on the decision to hone in on the SpaceX spacesuit. “We wanted to make that message both exciting and attainable. This is why we used a childhood song, in an adult way. We tried to create a spot that at the end, you can picture yourself in the spacesuit, representing the limitless possibility that anyone can now go to space. It's the first time for regular people to be able to do that.”

Beyond the big players in filmmaking, the team at Known relied on the help of scientific experts, particularly the team at SpaceX, who they say were significantly involved. “This is a SpaceX mission, right? We were working in conjunction with them. Anything we said had to have everyone's blessing. You couldn't take creative liberties that were untrue. It was a first for us,” explains Roth.

“There are no actors, no dialogue (other than the voiceover) so the suit had to bear the weight on the entire story. We had to make sure that the suit they had to spend all this time engineering looked incredible, so we worked hand in glove with them,” he adds.

Showcasing to the world this Sunday (February 7) 'Join Us' is expected to reach a viewing audience of 100 million people. “It's obviously the best and biggest way to get as many people," Roth explains. “It's also a shared experience. That's how people watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. Everyone was transfixed to the television.

“We're hoping in some sense that shared experience, which is elusive now, as the way we consume media is very fractured. This is an opportunity to get to everyone at once,” he insists.

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