During the 1930s an increase in the commercial viability of air travel meant that distant destinations could be visited in the blink of an eye. Travel posters for exotic locales showed idealized illustrations of both the travel experience and the locations themselves. But, since most people would never be able to afford luxury air travel prices, there was also a boom for a similar style of illustration to be used in the domestic travel posters created under the Works Progress Administration. These iconic posters touted the beauty of US national parks in a way that had never been done before. Now, a new series of NASA posters illustrates outer space in a similar way and it’s something to behold.
The “Exoplanet Travel Bureau” posters were created to show what some of the “attractions” of outer space could be if space travel were to become the norm for average people. The example above is for 55 Cancri e, an exoplanet that researchers estimate is coated in a lava surface. Not much is known about the planet yet, but discrepancies in temperature from one side of the planet to the other have led scientists to suspect that one side has more lava pools than the other.
The poster, however, depicts a world in which tourists can fly over the planet at close range in special glass vessels – something we are many years away from still. The copy for many of the posters is surreal. The bylines for 55 Cancri e explain, “Skies sparkle above a never-ending ocean of lava” and elaborate on the experience, “A global ocean of lava under sparkling, silicate skies reflecting the lava below: what better choice for an extreme vacation? Plant 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 images were created through the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab at Caltech and alongside the posters there are interactive pages that show what some of these areas of space might look like. However, data for many of these regions is still unavailable as they have yet to be photographed or explored in any kind of detail.
Additionally you can also download black and white coloring pages of the posters for you to envision these planets in your own unique way.
These images have that vintage look to them through the use of a limited color palette, something which in the 1930s was used because of how posters were printed back then. It was more economical to print in only 3 or 4 colors as each color was its own process and each hue had to dry before the next could be applied.
In the world of digital art a limited color palette often gives a distinctly retro feel, as does the use of classic poses like people looking out of a train or bus window (or in this case a spaceship) at the glorious scenery outside.
You also can’t help but notice how the couple on the poster for PSO J318.5-22 (a rogue planet that does not orbit a sun) look remarkably like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dressed for a scene in a film. However, I’m not sure that eternal night would inspire people to dance merrily as the poster suggests.
Still these posters are a fun (if surreal) way to envision a future where space travel becomes a feature of everyday life instead of an experience reserved for astronauts.
You can see all of the posters and look through the additional features on NASA’s Exoplanet Travel Bureau website.