Originally beginning as a series of posters celebrating NASA’s study of expolanets (planets that orbit stars other than our sun), and later morphing into a set retro-futuristic space tourism illustrations, JPL’s creative team has imagined a future where anybody can visit an exotic planet for a vacation.
Inspired by the WPA’s (Work Projects Administration) poster series of America’s national parks, NASA’s Visions of the Future poster series delivers a sense of a far away destination and simultaneously evokes a feeling of nostalgia for the era in which these kinds of illustrations were common. Those two aspects are arguably the main draw and appeal within the whole genre of “retrofuturism”.
Each poster was designed iteratively, going through several versions before the finished result, with close collaboration between JPL’s creative team (known as “The Studio), and various NASA scientists that study exoplanets. The studio came up with concepts on what the main draw of each planet might be tourism-wise, and the scientists would advise on various qualities of the planets such as color, geography, and more.
The Grand Tour
The Grand Tour poster celebrates Voyager 2’s historic journey through our solar system and beyond. Voyager 2 is a space probe that was launched by NASA in 1977 to examine the outer planets of our solar system. The remarkable thing about Voyager 2 is the fact that it’s the only probe to have visited all four of the Jovian planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune). This was accomplished by launching during a planetary alignment that only occurs once every 175 years. This narrow launch window gave Voyager 2 the opportunity to perform consecutive gravitational slingshot maneuvers (also known as gravity assists) to visit all four gas giants and pick up a tremendous amount of speed that allowed for a (relatively) quick arrival at the outermost planets. See an animation of the Voyager 2 trajectory here.
Voyager 2 currently the farthest man-made object from earth and traveling farther away by the day at an astonishing speed of over 34,000 miles per hour. Amazingly, NASA is still in contact with the probe, and continues to obtain useful information almost 45 years after launch, and almost 12 million miles of travel. NASA even provides a mission status web page where you can see some great details about the mission including velocity, elapsed time, distance from earth, and the status of Voyager’s various instruments.
The general concept for this poster was that in the future, space tourists would want to retread the path taken by Voyager, but would only be able to do so once every 175 years or so, hence the “once in a lifetime getaway” tagline. You can see various spaceships in the poster traveling in a V formation from right to left past Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. The four planets even seem to be accurately depicted in terms of size relative to each other.
Style-wise, the design came from some references we looked at from transparency overlays from the 1960s. It initially had a black background, but we inverted it and the design just clicked.Joby Harris
There’s a great shot of the iterations and creative process of this poster as well. Interesting to see the somewhat less stylized, black-background version of the poster become more abstracted for the final iteration.
Mars has been the main focus of NASA for the last few decades at least. Being our nearest neighbor, it’s a reasonably reachable planet, and is theorized to have once had liquid water oceans in the distant past. It’s also one of the prime candidates of having some past record of extraterrestrial life on it as well, considering that billions of years ago, Mars was supposedly once like Earth.
NASA has sent several robotic rovers to Mars, drilled for water and ice samples, mapped landmarks, and even drafted plans for habitats that would be lived in by future human colonists. The potential for agriculture on Mars has been studied extensively, and the planet has generally been on the forefront of humanity’s ambitions when it comes to space exploration, and expanding human life out beyond earth.
All of this, and more is represented in the poster, with some Easter eggs hidden throughout the design as well.
This was the very last poster we produced for the series. We wanted to imagine a future time where humans are on Mars, and their history would revere the robotic pioneers that came first. There are a few fun things to point out here. You can see the silhouette of Olympus Mons in the background, there’s a hint of underground water, and the rover’s wheel is spelling out JPL on the ground in Morse code, just like the Curiosity rover does (for what the rover drivers call “visual odometry.”)David Delgado
This poster is somewhat distinct from the others in that it embraces much more of a Bauhaus, abstracted geometric style. This approach lends itself well to this poster due to all of the references and ideas that are represented. It would be much harder to come up with a design that incorporates farming, plant life, water, Olympus Mons, past rovers, and human exploration if using the style of the rest of the posters in the series.
Home, sweet home. The two taglines of the poster are all too fitting, and serve as an important reminder of just how inhospitable places other than Earth really are. Step off of Earth, and you’ll either burn to death, freeze to death, suffocate, implode, become irradiated, or die some other horrible way, probably in just a matter of seconds. What better way to showcase the lovely environment of our home planet other than a depiction of the lush greenery, and emphasis on the lack of a need for a helmet?
The second planet from the sun is arguably the most unpleasant one in our solar system. A mean surface temperature of 867 degrees Fahrenheit and an atmosphere made up of sulfuric acid would give anybody second thoughts about the idea of Venus as a vacation destination.
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
Yet high above the acidic clouds of the planet, the prospect of Venusian floating cloud cities has been lingering in humanity’s cultural zietgeist since the dawn of science-fiction. This is the concept that NASA’s creative team went with for this poster.
A transit of Mercury across the sun is sold as the ‘must-see’ event from Venus’ Cloud 9 Observatory for any potential visitors.
Ceres is one the lesser-known planetary bodies in our solar system. People without an interest in astronomy have probably never heard of it. Like Pluto, it’s a dwarf planet (a massive object in direct orbit of the sun, but smaller than any of the 8 classical planets in our solar system). It orbits the sun within the asteroid belt, between Mars and Jupiter. This position in our solar system inspired the illustration team to give it the taglines of “Queen of the Asteroid Belt”, and “Gateway to the Outer Solar System”.
What’s interesting about Ceres is its geological activity. In 2014, emissions of water vapor were detected around Ceres, creating a temporary water atmosphere around the small planet. Apart from Earth, Ceres has more water than any other planet in the inner solar system.
The crucial presence of water, coupled with the Reno-inspired archway were the central themes of this poster. The Reno gateway famously describes Reno as “The biggest little city in the world”, which is the perfect analog for Ceres’ own place in our solar system.
Jupiter’s clouds are perhaps some of the most beautiful sights in our solar system. Their ever-moving patterns flow over the gaseous surface in an endlessly raging storm that we perceive as a quiet, serene dance. Jupiter’s clouds move in rings around the planet (sometimes in apparently opposite directions) in a magnificent display of macro-scale fluid dynamics. However, that’s hardly the focus of this poster, and for good reason.
Should a tourist from the future dare venture down into the clouds, they would be thrown around in the violent, ultra-hurricane force winds. Storm winds on Jupiter can reach up to 400 mph, compared to the Earth maximum of 190 mph.
The main tourist draw of Jupiter would instead be her jaw-dropping auroras. Jupiter has the most powerful auroras in the solar system, that measure at 10-30 times the strength and size of Earth’s largest potential auroras. Earth’s comparably pathetic Northern Light shows don’t hold a candle to Jupiter.
Enceladus is one of Saturn’s many moons. It’s the 6th largest (about 310 miles in diameter), but perhaps the most interesting. Enceladus frequently vents water-rich plumes from it’s southern polar region. Giant geysers on the surface of the moon shoot jets of water, hydrogen, and other substances into space in enormous quantities. In 2014, NASA’s Cassini probe had even found evidence for a large sub-surface liquid water ocean under Enceladus’ southern pole.
The existence of this ocean, coupled with the implied geological activity from the geysers, and finally combined with observations of escaping internal heat suggest that Enceladus’ hydrothermal environment could be habitable for some of Earth’s micro-organisms. Traces of methane found in the ejected plumes could even be attributed to the current existence these kinds of organisms under the moon’s surface. These discoveries have made Enceladus one of the most promising (if not the most promising) places to look for extraterrestrial life in our solar system.
But all that’s outside the scope of this poster. Just how geysers are a prominent tourist draw in places like Yellowstone National Park, Enceladus’s way bigger geysers are a sure hit. This particular poster is very reminiscent of the WPA’s Yellowstone poster as well.
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.
There’s no right way up in space, so for fun, we turned the surface upside down from the point of view of the visitors in the picture.David Delgado
Titan is Saturn’s largest moon. It’s the second largest moon in the entire solar system, surpassed only by Jupiter’s Ganymede. In terms of size, it’s even bigger than Mercury, although only 40% as massive. Interestingly, Titan features a climate with wind and rain cycles similar to Earth’s. It even has analogous surface features like dunes, rivers, lakes, seas, and deltas. The difference is that instead of water, Titan has liquid methane.
Titan’s methane lakes were the first stable surface liquid bodies found anywhere outside of Earth. However, the lakes on Titan are much more sparse and scattered than Earth, with Titan being much drier comparatively. Some of the lakes are only millimeters deep, but others are huge. The lake known as Ligeia Mare supposedly contains enough liquid methane to fill Lake Michigan three times over.
Unfortunately, you can’t have liquid methane without some drawbacks. Titan is a cold moon. The surface temperature is about -290°F (-179.2°C), with frigid winds sculpting the various surface features at glacial paces. Despite this, if tourists of the future come equipped with some heated suits, they might enjoy a leisurely boat ride across some of Titan’s desolate lakes while taking in an awe-inspiring view of Saturn rising over the horizon.
“All these worlds are yours. Except Europa. Attempt no landing there.” Such was the warning given to humanity by the protectors of life in Arthur C. Clarke’s novel 2010: Odyssey Two. The warning in the novel was given in order to allow life in Europa’s sub-surface oceans to evolve without interference. And the prospect of life under Europa’s surface is very much one worth looking into.
Like Enceladus, Europa is geologically active and likely features sub-surface liquid water oceans. The oceans retain their liquid forms due to heat generated in the moon from tidal flexing (the gravitational tugging and squeezing of the moon by Jupiter). Water vapor plumes observed by the Hubble Space Telescope also suggest tectonic activity. Europa’s oceans are the prime candidates for currently existing alien life in our solar system, and this was the tourist trap envisioned by NASA’s creative team. The oceans under Europa’s surface are suspected to be saltwater oceans just like Earths, only containing twice the volume of water. On Earth, where there’s water, there’s life. Maybe this is the case for Europa as well.
If I was one of these tourists, this would be my first destination. Who knows what kind of crazy life can evolve in the vast dark oceans under miles of ice? All we have to do to imagine it is look at some of the crazy life forms that exist at the deepest levels of our own oceans.
51 Pegasi b
“51 Pegasi b” is the first exoplanet ever to be discovered. Located 50 light years away in the Pegasus constellation, it orbits a sun-like star named “51 Pegasi”. Its discovery marked a breakthrough in astronomical research, and confirmed the long suspected existence of extra-solar planets. This discovery of other planets forever changed our perception of our place in the universe, and even resulted in a new class of planets dubbed Hot Jupiters—massive planets that orbit very close to their stars. We now know that many stars have orbiting planets, and have further supported the general theory that describes how solar systems are formed.
Notably, traces of water were also discovered in the planet’s atmosphere as recently as 2017—a discovery which won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2019. Since relatively little is known about this exoplanet, the poster takes a different approach, opting to display some post cards that space-faring tourists could send back home to their friends and families. 51 Pegasi b (now formally named “Dimidium”) is the prominent card, but several other exoplanets are featured below it as well.
HD 40307 g is a potentially habitable exoplanet that’s roughly twice the size of Earth. It’s located about 42 light-years away from Earth in the direction of the Pictor constellation.
Scientists know little about this planet. It may have a rocky surface like Earth, or have its surface buried beneath very thick layers of ice and gas. One thing that’s relatively well known is its mass, and therefore its gravitational pull. With 8 times the mass of Earth, anyone on the planet’s surface would weigh eight times more than they do on earth.
What would the draw of really high gravity be? Well, a skydiver’s terminal velocity would be way higher than if they were on Earth. A skydiver on Earth can only reach a speed of about 55 meters per second during their freefall. This is due to the equilibrium reached between air resistance pushing against you and Earth’s gravity pulling you towards the surface. On HD 40307 g, who knows what the terminal velocity would be? It depends on the planet’s atmosphere, but one thing is for sure: you’d be going a lot faster than 55 meters/second.
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.David Delgado
This was the first poster we designed in the series. The concept was really clear from the very beginning and set the tone for everything that came after. When we showed it to the scientists, the only thing they wanted us to tweak was to make the color of one of the stars (and the shadow it casts) different from the other star.Joby Harris
Reminiscent of Tatooine from Star Wars, Kepler 16-b is a planet that orbits two stars. It’s a fascinating orbital pattern called a “cirumbinary orbit” The two stars orbit on the same inner circular path, and their planet orbits both stars on a wider outer path.
Little is known about the planet. In the poster, it’s depicted as a rocky planet like Mars, but it’s more likely to be a gas giant like Jupiter or Saturn. Despite the planet probably not being hospitable to life, the sunsets would surely be a sight to behold.
Kepler-186f has the unique distinction of being the first Earth-sized planet discovered in a potentially habitable zone around its host star. Theoretically, liquid water could even exist on the planet’s surface. The star that Kepler-186f orbits is redder and cooler than our sun, but that just means that the planet has to be in a closer orbit to be habitable.
The concept for this poster explores the potential of plant life existing on the planet’s surface. If there was plant life that worked via photosynthesis, the plants would take on a red color instead of green due to the different wavelengths of light emitted by the star.
The white picket fence may be a reference to the potential habitability of the planet, evoking a sense of home, and making the somewhat contrived tagline of the poster make sense.
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. So 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.Joby Harris
PSO J318.5−22 is what’s known as a rogue planet—a planet that does not orbit a star, and instead maintains a constant, linear trajectory through space in perpetual darkness. The nature and origin of these planets is a mystery. We don’t know how they come to be. It could be that they were somehow ejected from the planetary systems in which they formed, or have never been gravitationally bound to a host star to begin with.
Because they are free-floating in space, detecting them is exceptionally hard. They’re much smaller than stars, and they don’t emit light, so direct imaging is exceptionally difficult. They don’t orbit a star, so indirect detection through radial velocity, transit, or astrometry is also basically impossible. The milky way galaxy may have billions to trillions of rogue planets silently and invisibly drifting around. Perhaps one may even collide with Earth one day. Such collisions may even be how new rogue planets are made.
PSO J318.5−22 was detected through direct imaging in 2013 via images taken by the Pan-STARRS telescope. It’s about 80 light years away from Earth. It’s a hot planet, exhibiting characteristics of very young planets found around other stars, which makes its isolation that much more mysterious. The heat from its cloud layer is the main reason we were able to see it at all, via the infrared spectrum.
This lone planet’s perpetual darkness might be difficult to spin into something positive, much less be made into an enticing tourist destination, but the creative team at NASA imagined a scenario with an orbiting nightclub that people may want to visit for the novelty. “Visit the planet with no star. Where the nightlife never ends.” I would go out of curiosity, but the intense presence of the planet might put a damper on the festivities. The planet’s lonely path is a constant, solemn reminder of the vast, lifeless, emptiness of space.
TRAPPIST-1e is a solid, roughly Earth-sized planet orbiting in the habitable zone around TRAPPIST-1—a dwarf star much smaller and dimmer than our own sun. It’s a relatively close destination, clocking in at approximately 40 light-years from Earth. No less than seven separate, temperate, terrestrial planets have been detected orbiting the star, which is more than any other studied system, with the exception of Kepler-90. Three of these planets are considered to be within the habitable zone, and all three are thought to potentially have liquid water somewhere on their surface. Optimistically, up to six out of the seven could be habitable.
The poster above features the two distinct features of such a planet prominently—surface water, and an astonishing skyward view of its sister planets.
55 Cancri e, or Janssen
55 Cancri e is the last poster in the series, and features perhaps the most hostile exoplanet yet. It’s a planet that clocks in at about 8.63 Earth masses, and orbits a star much like our own sun. The side of the planet that faces its star reaches temperatures up to 3,100 °F—an instant death sentence if someone equipped with the best of our current technology ventured too close.
Because of the high surface temperature, and the planet’s proximity to its star, 55 Cancri e’s star-facing side is theorized to be completely covered in an ocean of lava. However, the planet is tidally locked, meaning that only one side of the planet faces the sun at all times, much like how our own moon only has one side permanently facing the earth.
But as a tourist, you’d just be there for the views, hopefully equipped with much better protective gear. Perhaps you may even go lava surfing while tethered to a balloon high above, as depicted in the poster. NASA’s team sells the destination like this:
A global ocean of lava under sparkling, silicate skies reflecting the lava below: what better choice for an extreme vacation? Planet Janssen, or 55 Cancri e, orbits a star called Copernicus only 41 light years away. The molten surface is completely uninhabitable, but you’ll ride safely above, taking in breathtaking views: the burning horizon, Janssen’s sister planet Galileo hanging in a dark sky, and curtains of glowing particles as you glide across the terminator to Janssen’s dark side. Book your travel now to the hottest vacation spot in the galaxy, 55 Cancri e.Excerpt written below the illustration frame
Download NASA’s “Visions of the Future” Posters
These posters are free to download and print out for your own use! NASA is a publicly funded organization, after all. Check out the links below if you want to snag a copy. The JPGs are decent, but if you’re planning on printing, grab the TIFs.
|The Grand Tour||Download JPG||Download TIF|
|Mars||Download JPG||Download TIF|
|Earth||Download JPG||Download TIF|
|Venus||Download JPG||Download TIF|
|Ceres||Download JPG||Download TIF|
|Jupiter||Download JPG||Download TIF|
|Enceladus||Download JPG||Download TIF|
|Titan||Download JPG||Download TIF|
|Europa||Download JPG||Download TIF|
|51 Pegasi b||Download JPG||Download TIF|
|HD 40307g||Download JPG||Download TIF|
|Kepler-16b||Download JPG||Download TIF|
|Kepler-186f||Download JPG||Download TIF|
|PSO J318.5-22||Download JPG||Download TIF|
|TRAPPIST-1e||Download JPG||Download TIF|
|55 Cancri e||Download JPG||Download TIF|