February 10, 2014
— A new Olympics-themed Coca-Cola commercial features the International Space Station while recycling the soft drink company's own history in space.
The minute-long TV ad, which shows a U.S. astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut aboard the orbiting outpost watching their two nations going head-to-head in an Olympic hockey match on Earth, includes the return of the special can that Coca-Cola designed for a 1985 space shuttle mission.
The commercial may have drawn inspiration from the real-life journey of an Olympic torch to the International Space Station (ISS) last November. The same torch was used to light the cauldron as a part of the opening ceremony of the 22nd Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
The advertisement shows the two jersey-clad crewmates rooting for their respective teams while sipping from valve-capped Coke cans. When the U.S. scores, the cosmonaut reacts by spilling out his soda in a fit of frustration. In the microgravity environment of space, the soft drink floats off in spherical blobs and bubbles.
Coca-Cola's "ISS" Olympics television commercial (Coca-Cola)
The scene then switches pace, underscored by the use of the "Light Calvary Overture" by Austrian composer Franz von Suppé, as the two station residents quickly float off to catch as much of the soda with their mouths. The rivalry gives way to camaraderie as the cosmonaut swoops in to avoid the carbonated drink from shorting out an exposed electronics panel at the far end of the module.
The clip, while fictional, is not too far from reality.
"I think there will be some friendly competition, especially if the Russian and U.S. hockey teams meet head to head. That would always be interesting," NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio said from the real International Space Station during a recent interview with Space.com.
Just as is shown in Coca-Cola's commercial, Mastracchio and his crewmates are able to watch the Olympic games via video uplinked by NASA's Mission Control in Houston.
Ad imitating life: Though they do not have Coca-Cola to drink, the real space station crew can watch the Olympics. (Coca-Cola)
"We will have some of the Olympic events sent up to us, tape delayed, but we will also get some live," Mastracchio said. "On the weekends, they'll often uplink a TV station, and of course we'll ask for the Olympic events to be sent."
The crew doesn't have to have to worry about spilling their Cokes, however — the space station is soda free. While Mastracchio and his five Expedition 38 crewmates have other drinks they can sip from, including juice and coffee, the Coca-Cola Company's plans to launch a zero-g Coke machine fizzled out in the mid-1990s.
The soda maker flew its carbonated drink on three space shuttle missions, each time trying to solve one important challenge: keeping the bubbles inside rather than out.
Coca-Cola's first attempt at designing such a container — a space Coke can for space shuttle Challenger's STS-51F mission in July 1985 — makes its (fictional) return to orbit in the new Olympic commercial.
Coke in space: Coca-Cola in space memorabilia, including one of the original 1985 space Coke cans (center). (collectSPACE.com)
Whereas later missions flew pressurized cups and bottles together with a wall-mounted dispenser, the first time that Coke flew in space was inside an off-the-shelf aluminum can topped with a metal valve that the astronauts opened with the press of a button.
Unfortunately, the can didn't work out very well. In addition to the soda being warm (the shuttle was not equipped with a refrigerator for food products), the carbonation escaped, leaving the crew with flat drinks.
On the upside, floating "soda balls" became a source of amusement for the astronauts — just like for the audience for Coca-Cola's new commercial.