One giant leap for corporate synergy

It’s July 21, 2069. The landing craft Aldrin IV eases down to the surface of Mars, kicking up dust unmoved for millions of years.

The air lock unlatches as silent as a Star Trek door in the vacuum of space. Down the ladder eases Richard Branson Beta, the first clone to graduate from M.I.T.

As his boot meets Martian soil he turns to a purpose-built camera and intones “We came to this virgin land for the betterment of all mankind.”

There is an electronic squawk and mission control replies “Can we do that again? The sponsor’s logo isn’t in shot. And the guys in marketing want you to replace ‘betterment’ with ‘triumph’. It’s less syllables, easier for the audience.”

This scenario appeared unbidden in my mind last week as Austrian Felix Baumgartner took part in the biggest soft drink advertisement since the Atlanta Olympics.

As well as breaking altitude and speed records, Baumgartner more importantly ensured the Red Bull logo was seen on every news program, website and paper in the civilised world. He couldn’t have received more coverage if he did his jump Gangnam Style.

Remember when our great adventurers where stoic British colonials or All-American soldiers? When James Cook sailed to the South Pacific to both the transit of Venus or Neil Armstrong landed on the moon to help out his next door neighbour.

The man whose altitude records Baumgartner broke, Joe Kittinger, is a retired US Air Force Colonel who jumped from 102,800 feet in 1960.

The jump was part of Project Excelsior, a military project designed to solve high altitude escape problems as the space race began in earnest.

Kittinger remained in service and spent 11 months in a Vietnamese POW camp during the Vietnam War, an ordeal slightly more terrifying than the round of TV morning talk show appearance Baumgartner will inevitably have to endure.

Another exploration record to fall this year was the solo dive to the Earth’s deepest point, now held by director and former King of the World James Cameron.

His Deepsea Challenge expedition was funded by the National Geographic Society and two American universities but I highly doubt the most qualified man to pilot an experimental submarine kilometres below the surface was the guy directed Terminator II.

Cameron claims the dive was all about scientific research and the fact his sequel to Avatar (Or Dances with Smurfs as the wags at SouthPark call it) is set underneath the ocean, well that’s just a case of fortunate synergy.

To be fair, these early feats of exploration were driven by equally cynical motives. After Captain Cook had finished star gazing he swiftly sailed southward to stop the French claiming all the prime real estate in New South Wales.

And American advertising executive Larry D. Woodward has argued Baumgartner’s jump may inspire corporations like Coke and Nike to invest in science and medicine in order to boost their public image.

I just fear if the boffins at CERN do manage to invent a time machine, its first use will be to allow McDonald’s to cater the Last Supper.

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