You might think NASA is a big bureaucratic agency that only operates according to rules, regulations, and process — and you'd mostly be right. But the space agency is also full of dreamers and thinkers like the ones who make up the design studio at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who were behind the Exoplanet Travel Bureau poster series that was published last year.
That series was so well-received by the public that the studio is now releasing a more extensive run of posters known as "Visions of the Future" (the first three of which were published yesterday). All 14 posters — including the "Exoplanet" series — are now available for download on the JPL website, and you can also see them below.
The studio was formed about 13 years ago when designer Dan Goods asked JPL director Charles Elachi how he could help NASA's exploration wing. Soon enough Goods was running a six-person studio that was in charge of everything from actual design work to more esoteric tasks, like helping JPL scientists and engineers brainstorm their missions — or what JPL designer David Delgado calls "help them think through their thinking."
"They come from real serious fields of expertise," Delgado says, "but being able to help them through that process, to listen to each other and help them find connections is something that we love to do."
The JPL design team works closely with NASA scientists and engineers
Working so closely with the engineers and scientists at JPL means that Delgado, Goods, and their fellow designers are in tune with the latest discoveries and biggest mysteries in our solar system. When NASA wanted them to create more posters, Delgado says coming up with a theme that revolved around planetary exploration was easy. "We're huge science fiction fans, but sometimes it's positioned only in that way that it's science fiction," Delgado says. "What's kind of special is we're working with people who are actively trying to make these things come to life."
Each new poster mixes a bit of that reality with an optimistic take on what exploring our solar system might actually look like someday. The poster for Venus calls for visitors to come see the "Cloud 9 Observatory," which isn't far off from an idea that's been thrown around at NASA. The poster for Europa advertises the ability to see underwater life — something that doesn't feel so far-fetched considering the moon is home to a global subsurface ocean.
But all that expertise only goes so far. Eventually the team had to take a few liberties, because unfiltered reality can be harsh. "Science is the start, and it drives every mission," says Joby Harris, another member of the design team. "But let's face it — Titan smells like a giant sewer. So how do you make it romantic?"