Back to the (space tourism) Future

There’s something hypnotically beautiful about so much of science fiction art. The new posters from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory are no exceptions. Sure, they aren’t strictly science fiction (the captions attached to each one explain the work NASA is doing), but can anything be more classically Sci-Fi than vintage-style tourism posters to unexplored worlds?

                                                  “Visions of the Future”– a throwback to vintage tourism posters (JPL)

No one can yet travel to Mars, let alone Enceladus, so to call these posters science fiction is hardly inaccurate. We can all dream about a “Grand Tour” across the Solar System, but this is as likely to be a reality in our lifetimes as many of the other depictions of what galactic exploration would look like in thousands of years.

The minimalist aesthetic seen in these JPL posters hearkens back to what could be called the “golden age” of space travel. The mid-20th century, a time of Sputnik, Apollo, and the Atomic Bomb, sparked a national and international obsession with space and space exploration. The Cold War served to heighten this interest, but the idea of exploration itself still seemed to grasp the public in a way that isn’t seen to the same extent today.

These posters recapitulate some of the most recognizable tourism posters from that era. From railway journeys to skiing in the French Alps, some of these posters seem like advertisements for space travel themselves. This minimalist, geometric style that reappears in many of the JPL posters isn’t dissimilar from that seen in so many science fiction movies and TV shows. The quintessential rotating space station, and sleek 60s aesthetic of 2001: A Space Odyssey holds a special place in the way space travel is pictured. Even the newest Star Trek shows a similarly white, sleek, and unreasonably clean bridge on the Enterprise.

                                                         Space-age travel on the Southern Electric railway

Our artistic impressions of outer space can both inspire science and inspire the public who need to support that science to get it (literally) off the ground. Perhaps by producing these vintage-style posters, NASA is hoping to reignite that spark, that early, child-like feeling of unlimited possibilities that we held not so many years ago. The images certainly seized my attention, reminding me of the amazing beauty held in the unknown. Of course, these posters are lovely, but imagine how beautiful it would be to actually take the Grand Tour yourself. Perhaps, by igniting our imaginations, these posters will help make that a reality.

Featured image from 2001: A Space Odyssey



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