NASA’s Stunning Space Tourism Posters Celebrate the Marriage of Science, Art, and Myth

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Ever since my introduction to the works of mythologist Joseph Campbell, most notably, his last book, The Inner Reaches of Outer Space, I have been convinced that there need not be any conflict between facts and our science and culture, or science and the aesthetic means by which we render an incomprehensible world meaningful. Our minds are not designed to be moved by facts—yet science, the generator of more and more factual knowledge, is the basis for what Campbell claims is the new landscape for our cultural and spiritual imagination, and therefore must be transmitted through the generations in more human terms.

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“I would say that all our sciences are the material that has to be mythologized. A mythology gives spiritual import – what one might call rather the psychological, inward import, of the world of nature round about us, as understood today. There’s no real conflict between science and religion … What is in conflict is the science of 2000 BC … and the science of the 20th century AD.” — Joseph Campbell

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I am delighted whenever I encounter an attempt by art or culture to make science relatable to the layman. I was especially thrilled to discover that NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology had undertaken this endeavor for itself in a series of free, printable posters titled “Visions of the Future,” which you can download here.

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A great deal of thought and care went into the designing of the posters, created by a team of creative visual strategists at JPL’s “The Studio.” “The point was to share a sense of things on the edge of possibility that are closely tied to the work our people are doing today,” states their page.

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Each poster took into account established cultural motifs and images associated with space travel, how future humans might perceive such travel, and the engineering and science involved. Concerning traveling to Mars, creative strategy leader David Delgado notes, “We wanted to imagine a future time where humans are on Mars, and their history would revere the robotic pioneers that came first.”

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These “space tourism” posters are a positive kind of propaganda that excite us about spacefaring future, tugging at our mythic imaginations. Unlike the mythic art of the past, depicting a variety of fantastical gods bearing the heads of animals or displaying multiple bejeweled arms, our contemporary mythic art portrays a time yet to come.

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This, I believe, is one of the great distinctions between the mythology of the past and our contemporary myths: while the ancients looked to the past as the source of awe, creation, and power, the 21st century eye looks up, forward, and inward, anticipating a new world of new powers driven by human rather than divine creation.