NASA Wants to Show You What the Future Looks Like

However far away commercial space travel actually is, NASA is already imagining what it might look like and where we might go—and they want to take you along for the ride.

Ever dreamed of going on a space adventure, but not exactly into the idea of becoming a full-time astronaut?

One day not too far away, anyone might be able to be a space tourist. At least, NASA thinks so and they've painted a picture (well, lots of pictures, beautiful ones) of what that might look like in the style of a very recognizable American tradition.

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In 1936, the Work Projects Administration—a branch of the U.S. government designated to carry out public projects like building roads and public buildings—began what would become an iconic poster program. You may not be familiar with the WPA, but the retro-futuristic look of the posters, which promote national parks and community events, are some of the most familiar graphic interpretations of American nostalgia.

"The old WPA posters did a really great job of delivering a feeling about a far-off destination," says Joby Harris, an illustrator with the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory's team of visual strategists known as "The Studio." Harris, along with eight other design team members, have just released a collection of futuristic posters in the style of WPA's iconic imagery. The difference is, the places JPL depict aren't your typical tourist destinations.

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Called Visions of the Future, the collection goes beyond Earth and the planets in our solar system to the exoplanets. These are planets that orbit a star other than the sun, and as lead strategist David Delgado explains, are "on the edge of possibility, closely tied to the work [JPL] is doing today." Each poster—however far away their subject might seem from reality—is based on real science and a day when space tourism is commonplace.

The best part of all? The 14 posters are available to download for free at the JPL website (they're 20x30 inches—just the right size to hang on your walls or use as your desktop art).


Below, get a sneak peek of the posters and hear from the designers, who share their insights into the mysteries of the universe.

Grand Tour

"The Grand Tour is the route the Voyager 2 spacecraft took to visit all four outer planets. We imagined this would be something people might want to repeat, since it's a flight plan that's possible every 175 years or so, when the outer planets are arranged just right." –David Delgado

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Venus

"We tried a few different designs for Venus, starting with the surface, but the intent was to show things people might find pleasant, and Venus' surface is anything but." –Joby Harris

Ceres

"The big sign in this poster is inspired by the gateway in Reno that announces it as 'The Biggest Little City in the World.' We thought that might suit Ceres: It's the biggest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and probably has a lot of water ice underground." –Delgado

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Jupiter

"The basis for this poster was a Jupiter cloudscape by artist Ron Miller, who was very gracious in allowing us to modify his painting. In talking with a lead scientist on NASA's Juno mission (which is getting to Jupiter in July), we locked onto his description of the brilliant auroras Jupiter has. It would truly be a sight to see." –Delgado

Enceladus

"Saturn's moon Enceladus is all about the plumes erupting from its south pole. At our first brainstorming session, someone called the plumes 'Cold Faithful,' and that helped crystallize this idea quite quickly. Another thing we thought about, is that there's no right way up in space, so for fun, we turned the surface upside down from the visitors' point of view." –Delgado

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Kepler-186f

"The concept here was about how plants might be very different colors on planets around other stars, since the star's spectrum of light would be different. We played on an old saying with 'the grass is always redder on the other side of the fence.' There's whimsy in the design, making people wonder why there would be this white picket fence on an alien planet." –Harris

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"As we discussed ideas for a poster about super Earths—bigger planets, more massive, with more gravity—we asked, 'Why would that be a cool place to visit?' We saw an ad for people jumping off mountains in the Alps wearing squirrel suits, and it hit us that this could be a planet for thrill-seekers." –Delgado

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