23 Retro-Futuristic NASA Posters That Imagine The Next Golden Age Of Space Travel

Published February 12, 2016
Updated April 8, 2021

From hot-air balloons on Jupiter to nightlife on a planet with no star, these images are truly out of this world.

Kepler 16b
Trappist Exoplanet Poster
Titan
Space Travel Poster Of Europa
23 Retro-Futuristic NASA Posters That Imagine The Next Golden Age Of Space Travel
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From the first Moon landing to orbits around planet Earth, there's no question that the first golden age of space travel yielded some thrilling adventures. But what will the next golden age look like? These NASA space travel posters explore the possibilities — by using retro-futurism.

Referring to the past's vision of the future, retro-futurism has been celebrated in countless artworks. Many of these pieces depict what people from the past thought that the future might look like. While it may seem strange to create retro-futuristic illustrations today, it's a good fit for something like the future of space travel — which is often hard to predict.

Courtesy of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), these illustrations imagine a future in which we're able to casually travel our solar system like we do our Earth. What if we could hop from planet to planet like we do cities? Explore this fantastical vision in the gallery above.

How NASA Created 'Visions Of The Future'

Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Wikimedia CommonsAn aerial view of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

A creative team of resident designers and illustrators at JPL designed the NASA space travel posters in 2016. While JPL is mostly known for its creation of robotic spacecrafts that explore far-off planets, there's no denying that people who work there have a talent for art as well.

Nine artists were involved in creating the prints, but they didn't work alone. Before they began illustrating, they consulted with NASA scientists and engineers — and got their feedback throughout the entire creative process. Even though these images are largely based on fantasy, the artists wanted at least some aspects to be based on science.

Interestingly enough, the posters actually started out as a series about exoplanets. But then, the director of JPL took a trip to the Grand Canyon and saw a travel poster that reminded him of the poster design for the exoplanet. Soon after, the idea was born to give a "touristy" treatment to other places in the solar system that the JPL was exploring.

When it came to style, the NASA space travel posters gravitated toward a "retro-future" look, inspired by vintage national park posters. Recreating the nostalgia of those prints was the goal — as was sharing the sense of possibility that exists within all those distant locales. The director of JPL called the artists from the studio "architects of the future."

So it was only fitting that the final series was titled "Visions of the Future."

A Retro-Futuristic Vision Of Space Travel

NASA Jet Propulsion Lab

NASA The Space Flight Operations Center at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, pictured in 2012. There, engineers command spacecrafts within and outside of our solar system.

While many people today may believe that fantastical forms of space travel are unthinkable, these NASA posters bring alive the hope that one day it will be possible to hop in a spacecraft and visit these faraway places.

Aside from drawing up potential blueprints for space travel, the collection aims to invoke nostalgia for places that we've never been, but have dreamed about visiting someday. While a real trip to Jupiter or Pluto might be a long way off, these illustrations make it seem like they're just a short ride away.

But even if we don't see the day when we can easily book a trip to Mars, there's no question it'll be interesting to look back at these images years from now and see what has changed with space travel — and what hasn't.

After all, retro-futurism is a relatively new concept that we've only recently started to explore. It first emerged in the wake of the technological advances of the 1970s and '80s. By that point, depictions of the future that people of the past had created began to look far-fetched. Still, people found nostalgia in these quaint ideas, and hence, the name was born.

And even though some retro-futuristic images are laughable, the dreamers of the past got at least a few things right. Self-driving cars are just about here. Video conferencing and wrist accessories that play TV shows are everyday realities. And automated systems are in use inside many homes. So in many ways, the future is already here on Earth.

Only time will tell if the same will be true for new types of space travel.


Return to the first golden age of space travel with these vintage NASA photos. Then, see what NASA retro-futurism looked like in the 1970s with these renderings of their proposed space colonies.

John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the Managing Editor of All That Is Interesting.