Wed 9 Dec 2009
An ad rolls before the newcast footage.
Toshiba, the giant electronics manufacturer, had already booked advertising time on television networks in Europe and Japan. Their must-stop-and-watch image commercial would feature an armchair rising from the ground to the edge of space, beautifully shot in high definition. It would be a creative way to market Toshiba’s new line of flat screen televisions. The only thing missing was the “money shot” — an arm chair hovering at the edge of space. Special effects was not an option because viewers would know it was fake. Sort of like the scene of the White House blowing up in the movie Independence Day. Everyone knows it’s not real.
NASA could probably put Toshiba’s little orange armchair in space, but that would take years of planning and cost millions of dollars. And their ad campaign was set to air in just weeks. The production company in charge of creating the ad is based in London, England. But even across the Atlantic Ocean, they had heard of a man who works out of a small warehouse in Rancho Cordova, a man who has flown science projects under helium balloons to the edge of space more than 100 times. When John Powell received the first email asking if he could fly a light-weight chair high above the Earth, his first reaction was “no one is going to be sitting in the chair, right?” Correct. Powell’s second reaction: “Yeah, we can do that. It sounds like a really fun mission.”