Visions of the Future (courtesy NASA)

Visions of the Future poster for the “Grand Tour” of planets, a reference to when NASA’s Voyager mission used the once-every-175-year alignment of our solar system’s outer planets to stage its orbiter spacecraft. (courtesy JPL/NASA)

Back in the 1930s and ’40s, during the height of the Great Depression, artists designed posters for the Works Projects Administration (WPA) to encourage travel to national parks and other tourist sites in the United States. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) design studio is taking a similar approach to promote a future of travel to other planets at a time when its funding is up against budget constraints and even a journey to our galactic neighbor Mars may seem almost impossible.

Visions of the Future poster for Jupiter, where auroras are hundreds of times more powerful than those we see on Earth. (courtesy NASA) (click to enlarge)

JPL released the 14 downloadable Visions of the Future posters this month, stating that “imagination is our window into the future.” These posters join NASA’s exoplanet designs, released last year. In addition to work from the JPL design studio, Don and Ryan Clark of Invisible Creature were commissioned to create posters for Mars, Enceladus (a moon of Saturn), and the Grand Tour for the alignment of the outer solar system planets, a rare event which enabled the Voyager mission to visit these distant bodies. In the Grand Tour poster, spacecraft rocket by abstracted spheres rendered in a style akin to midcentury airline advertisements, made when earthbound flight was still gaining postwar public interest.

While the illustrations on the posters are fantastic, like a diamond-shaped “Cloud 9 Observatory” perched above the dense atmosphere of Venus, and a vision of Mars in which the Pathfinder and Rovers have become historic sites, they are intended to spark real thinking on the human potential for space exploration. The initiative is much like the Mars travel posters released by SpaceX last year, and the space travel posters created by Steve Thomas, some of which were included in Guerilla Science’s Intergalactic Travel Bureau, which proposed fictional bookings to space destinations.

Aspirational travel can only do so much, but perhaps by vividly illustrating the distant “Super Earth” HD 40307g with its huge gravitational pull as a base jumping haven, or the dual shadows of an astronaut on Kepler-16b that orbits a pair of stars, some will consider how much we’ve already discovered about the worlds outside our atmosphere, and how far we could go.

Visions of the Future poster for Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, where there are rivers and lakes of liquid ethane and methane. (courtesy NASA)

Visions of the Future poster for Mars, imagining a future in which the current NASA Mars Exploration Program relics are historic sites. (courtesy NASA)

Visions of the Future poster for Earth, for a future when it’s no longer our only home planet. (courtesy NASA)

Visions of the Future poster for Venus, where visitors can watch the transit of Mercury even closer than James Cook during his 1769 South Pacific trek. (courtesy NASA)

Visions of the Future poster for exoplanet Kepler-16b, which orbits a pair of stars. (courtesy NASA)

Download all of the Visions of the Future posters online from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

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Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...

6 replies on “NASA Releases Retro Posters for the Future of Space Exploration”

      1. Oh, thank you! I attended high school in a WPA building and I remember admiring the brass plaque that hung inside the lobby. The school was built prior to the name change (early or mid-30s) and is still in use today.

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