Editorial: Leave advertisements out of space

A Russian startup company announced in January it wants to create advertisements with small satellites.

A Russian startup company announced in January it wants to take advertising to a new terrain — the sky. The company, StartRocket, said the ads would be created by tiny satellites and reflective sails, reflecting sunlight in order to form glowing advertisements. The advertisements would be visible on land, from just about anywhere on Earth.

The beverage company PepsiCo announced its partnership with StartRocket on April 13. But the company has since decided to scrap plans following aggressive pushback. That means we’re safe — for now. In a day and age where it’s nearly impossible to go anywhere without seeing some sort of advertisement, putting them in the sky seems not only irritating, but unnecessary and harmful.

Marketing experts estimate people see anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 ads a day. From social media and billboards to hit songs and bathroom stall doors, advertisements are everywhere. Pittsburgh’s highest point, Mount Washington, even displays a giant, controversial Sprint Wireless Advertisement. The banner is visible from almost any spot downtown.

Along with an extreme and unnecessary addition of advertisements, space experts have voiced concern that ads in space could contribute to light pollution. As the brightness of the night sky increases from artificial light sources, it becomes harder to see stars and detect objects. This would affect almost every observatory in the world, according to the American Astronomical Society. Light pollution also has negative effects on health — it can damage the body’s circadian rhythm, slowing the production of melatonin and resulting in inadequate sleep and a weakened immune system, according to the International Dark-Sky Association.

Experts also agree that projects like StartRocket’s would significantly increase debris pollution in space. According to the American Astronomical Society, there are more than 20,000 foreign objects currently circulating in space. The debris increases the risk of collision, which could disable an active astronomy mission.

Despite the pushback and looming consequences, there are no laws against what StartRocket is trying to do, according to Astronomy. Since the technology already exists, if not Pepsi, another company with a large marketing budget may want to partner with StartRocket in the future.

But many people, including John Barentine, an astronomer and director of conservation for the International Dark-Sky Association, will continue to insist that the sky should be kept ad free.

“Who wants to look at this?” Barentine told Astronomy in January, regarding StartRocket’s proposal. “I can’t imagine anybody in a kind of a man-on-the-street situation if you ask them if they want to be confronted with advertising messages in the night sky would say, ‘Yeah, I think that’s a great idea.’”

Just as nobody wants to take a photo of the sky with a KFC ad in the background, nobody wants to stargaze and see an advertisement for Pepsi. There are plenty of other places to creatively and effectively advertise, but the sky should be kept ad free.

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