The Time Taco Bell Offered Free Tacos To Everyone In The US (In The Name Of Space)

Space exploration is one thing, but Taco Bell exploration is quite another. Sure, traveling across the stars at three times the speed of light and fighting hostile aliens sounds pretty cool, but it's not exactly a meaty burrito dripping with cheese, is it? In fact, to an avid fan of the brand, Taco Bell's menu of crunchy, creamy, and salad-topped treats might even seem far more intriguing and sensible than rocking around space in a tin can.

Despite this, Taco Bell is actually more closely associated with space than you might think. In 2001, the company promised a free taco for everyone in America if the core of a space station re-entering Earth managed to hit a Taco Bell logo that had been placed on a float in the ocean. The space station in question was a Russian creation called Mir, which had been in orbit since 1986. As bizarre and improbable as that seems, Taco Bell clearly thought Mir could strike the logo because the company took out an insurance policy to cover the prospect of enormous costs (imagine having to fill out that claim). But how did the plan unfold?

Taco Bell hit a different target with its space station stunt

During a planned re-entry to Earth, it was anticipated that Mir would fly over Japan before crashing in the South Pacific. Clearly seeing a massive publicity opportunity, Taco Bell pledged to give everyone living in the U.S. a complimentary taco if the space station hit a 40-foot by 40-foot target positioned 10 miles from Australia. That would have made nearly 285 million Americans eligible for free food.

Given that none of us talk about the great bankruptcy of Taco Bell, it might not be surprising to learn that the space station did not hit Taco Bell's target (debris crashed into the sea to the east of New Zealand) – if it had, it could have cost the company $10 million.

Taco Bell's stunt is considered to be a thorough marketing success. The cost of the insurance cover would likely have been low due to the implausibility of Mir hitting the target, so whatever the outcome Taco Bell stood to benefit from the attention. After the dream of free tacos failed to be realized, Taco Bell launched a deal that allowed customers to buy two tacos for 99 cents.