NASA’s travel posters might be the perfect bit of mind candy for anyone wishing for a vacation destination away from the same old places. It might be fair to say that NASA and Jet Propulsion Laboratory have created ads for journeys that are out of this world.
According to Will Sabel Courtney at the Drive, a website devoted to cars, supercars, and anything else that goes “Zoom!” the latest set of travel posters serve as a visual document of NASA’s wish list. The initial concept for this was conceived in-house at Jet Propulsion Laboratory. JPL, known primarily for its function as a think tank and research and development playground for the extraterrestrially inclined, has had its own design studio for over a decade.
In May of 2015, NASA’s JPL asked their graphic designers to create travel posters that reflected the research in progress at JPL. The idea was to inspire interest in their visions for the future, some of which exist at the drawing table or digital tablet, while others are already on the floor in the testing facilities. The result was a trio of posters touting vacation spots offered by Exoplanet Travel Bureau.
The first series advertised trips to the Earth-sized, possibly earth-like planet Kepler-186f and the much larger but potentially habitable HD 40307g. Their art and slogans took a tongue-in-cheek approach to presenting bits of science fact along with the fiction of available vacations that take getting away from it all to a new level.
The posters caught the attention of observers in multiple industries. Michelle Gross of Travel + Leisure described the ads as “equal parts retro-chic and sheer design genius.” One of AdWeek’s AdFreak bloggers, Angela Natividad, provided an historic perspective of possible influences for the varying styles of the posters, citing mid-century paperback cover art, historic event propaganda, and “flower-power imagery.” John Brownlee of Fast Company declared NASA’s travel posters were “retro-tastic.”
NASA’s original offering has since been expanded from the three to fourteen travel posters. Pasadena-based JPL is no stranger to collaboration, bringing together experienced hands at NASA with up and coming stars in engineering and physics from Caltech. Their graphic design department reached out to a number of artists who had already demonstrated their genius for branding.
The Altanta Journal-Constitution published a report about NASA’s travel posters filed by Kimberly Miller of the Palm Beach Post. Miller spoke with two NASA visual strategists who were involved with the project, David Delgado and Joby Harris.
Delgado grants the fantastic elements of the travel poster art but stresses that the information is based on actual findings from the lab coat and slide rule crowd.
“There are all these worlds out there, and they seem like science fiction, but they are real, and they have very different characteristics We wanted to bring an element of plausibility in what it would be like to be there.”
Joby Harris expressed his belief that this outreach effort from NASA will help make the science of space exploration more accessible to those who are intimidated by sheafs of data and diagrams.
“The wonders of space can be difficult for people to grasp, because it sometimes comes across as just data.
“Our universe has gotten so much bigger, but people aren’t talking about it. The power of imagery with science really makes the connection with people.”
Three of the newer series of travel posters were designed by Don and Ryan Clark, artists and owners of Invisible Creature, a Seattle-based design and illustration studio best known for their branding work for Alice in Chains and the Foo Fighters. The designers spoke at length with John Brownlee at Fast Company about the inspiration and creative process involved in creating the images for NASA. On the blog for their company’s website, they presented details about the visual elements with extensive illustrations explaining their design decisions.
For Don and Ryan Clark, the opportunity to design travel posters for NASA was more than just a great way to expand the reach of their business. It was a way to reach back to their past and pay tribute to family connections to NASA. At the end of the blog post is a 1960s vintage color picture of a man doing graphic design the old-fashioned way, with straight edges, ink, and paper. He’s their grandfather, Al Paulsen, and he worked as a designer at NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field for thirty years.
Late last year, NASA offered the 14 posters in a 2016 calendar format as an internal gift to staff and associates of the agency, JPL, and Caltech. Since word of the calendar got out, demand for the posters has been high. NASA responded with an expanded website for the travel agency and a way to get copies of the posters by purchase from JPL’s online store or a free printable download. On their page, they issue an invitation to enjoy the image and learn about the science behind them.
“Imagination is our window into the future. At NASA/JPL we strive to be bold in advancing the edge of possibility so that someday, with the help of new generations of innovators and explorers, these visions of the future can become a reality. As you look through these images of imaginative travel destinations, remember that you can be an architect of the future.”
At Exoplanet Travel Bureau, the posters are a peek into NASA’s future. It doesn’t even require a towel, an electronic travel guide, or a Babel Fish to see what’s out there — just a click of a mouse. So what are you waiting for?
[Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech]