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The BBC's Steven Rosenberg
"For there, on the side of the rocket, is an advert for pizza"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 11 July, 2000, 17:04 GMT 18:04 UK
Selling space Russian-style
Soon all Russian rockets could be covered in advertising
Soon all Russian rockets could be covered in advertising
By Steven Rosenberg in Moscow

As the early morning sun rises over the Russian cosmodrome, a giant Proton rocket eases out of its hangar and moves majestically down rusting tracks.

Locked onto its tip is a sparkling white metal cylinder called Zvezda. It is Russia's latest contribution to the International Space Station.

At the end of the line, the gigantic tower of metal is hauled into place on the launch pad.

It is a breathtaking sight, reflecting the might of the country's space programme.

However, all of a sudden the illusion is gone. I rub my eyes in disbelief.

Pizza to go


There's about 500 million people who will be watching the launch either live or on news broadcasts across the country and around the world

Geoffrey Fox, Pizza Hut
For there, on the side of the rocket, is an advert for pizza.

Geoffrey Fox, vice president of national marketing for Pizza Hut, told me why he believes pizza and proton rockets are the perfect match.

"There's about 500 million people who will be watching the launch either live or on news broadcasts across the country and around the world," says Mr Fox.

"Pizza Hut has always been bringing themselves up to dramatic heights and we think there's no better way to visually demonstrate that than by putting your logo on a rocket and blasting it into space."

Not everyone, though, is impressed. Yuri Cherkassov, the head of the Russian Space Agency's marketing board, is furious with Pizza Hut.

It is a row which threatens to overshadow the launch of the Zvezda module itself.

Pizza Hut: Capturing the space market
Pizza Hut: Capturing the space market
Mr Cherkassov claims that only his organisation has the right to "sell space". Pizza Hut, he says, never paid him a penny.

"When Pizza Hut declared about this project, we immediately contacted Pizza Hut and showed our exclusive right for this advertising in Russia," he says.

"Nobody contacted us, nobody looked through these documents," he says.

The battle for space, then, has become big business. It is not just about pizza.

A cosmonaut participates in an Australian Football advert
A cosmonaut participates in an Australian Football advert
In one Australian football advertisement, a football is kicked up into space, bounces off the Mir Space Station only to terrify an unsuspecting cosmonaut.

These Television commercials already earn vital funds for the increasingly impoverished Russian space industry.

Spacesuits by Versace

Vladimir Semyonov: It's a business
Vladimir Semyonov: It's a business
Among the Space Marketing Board's future fundraising ideas are designer spacesuits by Versace, and a national lottery where the first prize would be a trip to Mir.

It is all a far cry from the grand old days when the Russian space programme received as much state funding as it wanted.

There was no need for pizza advertisements in Yuri Gagarin's time.

Still, space expert Vladimir Semyonov sees nothing wrong with pasting western advertisements onto Russian rockets.

"These advertisements will last slightly more than a minute only," he says.

"If they'd like to pay, why not? It's a market. We're selling free space for a minute making money out of this, it's a business, it's ok."

The International Space Station may herald a new era of co-operation in the exploration of the universe. Make no mistake. Space itself is up for sale.

The Russians cannot afford to miss out.

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See also:

27 Jan 00 | Sci/Tech
What future for the space station?
26 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Space station module set for launch
11 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
Russian 'Star' set for launch
04 Feb 00 | Sci/Tech
Space station at 'moment of truth'
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