11 of NASA’s most out-of-this-world illustrations

The inspiration behind the exploration.

Cover of the Art of NASA.
Even rocket scientists have to get a little artsy.Motorbooks

Artists often think outside the box. But when you’re hired by NASA, you have to literally think outside of this world. Over the last sixty-or-so years, in addition to its unprecedented scientific discoveries, NASA has also published some striking art pieces that portray ideas that range from the sci-fi proposals of the 50s and 60s to artistic recreations of real space adventures of the modern era.

The Art of NASA, a new compilation of some of the most creative, funky, and celestial masterpieces ever to grace the desks of space explorers and scientists, is out this week. Here’s a sampling of the outrageous work.

1963 drawing of an LLRV
An impressionistic and dramatic 1963 drawing of the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle which was used to train astronauts for the moon landing. Patrick Short
Apollo 17 takeoff
Artist Carl Zoschke captured this scene of an Apollo lunar module taking off in the 1960s, though with probably more flair and brilliant colors than was actually present at the time. Patrick Short
Skylab artists rendering.
The Skylab, launched in 1973, is still the largest spacecraft ever sent to space with just one rocket. This is an artist's rendering of what was going on inside.NASA
Apollo CM reentering Earth's atmosphere.
Here, an unknown artist depicts an Apollo command module's fiery reentry to Earth's atmosphere.NASA
Davis Meltzer’s A Space Station
After the moon landing, the idea of life in space became more enticing than ever for scientists and artists alike, inspiring work like this 1970 drawing for National Geographic.NASA
Robert T. McCall, "2001: A Space Odyssey" ["Space Station Operations" (1967)], painting, oil on masonite [A19690093000]. Conceptual space painting for the Stanley Kubrick motion picture "2001: A Space Odyssey" (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1968). Painting depicts the Pan American spaceship "Orion" leaving an Earth-orbit space station. [NOTE: Correct orientation of image is with spaceship nose down, pointing to lower left.] [Scanned 6/2/2016 from 4 x 5 inch color transparency, processed to remove dust, color bars and gray scale moved to parallel position.]
This sketch of an orbiting space hotel was drawn to help conceptualize a space ship in the 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.NASA
ESA ATV
This is an artist's depiction of the 2014 ATV from the European Space Agency that would become the main form of propulsion for NASA's Orion spacecraft.Chris Calle/Family of Paul Calle
Ulysses space craft
A drama-filled illustration of the Ulysses spacecraft crashing through the tail of a comet.NASA
1989 Galileo rendering.
If the Galileo spacecraft had fully extended it's main antenna while orbiting Jupiter (it ended up only partially opening up), this is what NASA artists think it would've looked like.NASA
ARTIST: Rick Guidice Space Colonization; inside the sphere gravity is strongest along the equator. as on moves toward the center gravity lessens and one could fly easily. Sunlight enters as shown by the large fuzzy ring. The central tube connects to other sections of the colony.
Living in space is still a pretty far-out idea, but Princeton University physics professor Gerard K. O’Neill thinks this could be what it would look like. With O-Neill's ideas in mind, artist Rick Guidice whipped up a whole series of art depicting futuristic outer space life.NASA
Parker Solar Probe
In 2018, the Parker Solar Probe took super-close up images of the sun and forever changed what we know about space weather. This is one artist's rendering of the probe hovering above the sun's tumultuous surface.NASA

Correction: The headline was updated to include an accurate count of illustrations, which is 11 not 10.

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