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Can These Awesome "Space Tourism" Posters Boost Public Support for NASA?

NASA just released more "space tourism" posters, and all 14 of them are gorgeous creations, aimed at making you itch to "visit the historic sites" of Mars and "discover life under the ice" on Europa.

All of the posters, which were commissioned by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, sport "vintage" designs and are offered free online to anyone who wishes to print them out.

But the awesome artwork itself is only part of what's intriguing about this new casually super-cool offering from the federal space agency. NASA isn't putting out these free space travel posters because its officials just feel like doing something nice for people. As the Christian Science Monitor points out, this is yet another clever public relations gambit designed to get people excited about space exploration and space travel.

NASA is doing everything it can, from it's incredible Twitter page set up last year, to the 360-view of the Mars sand dunes released last month and now these posters, to recreate the public enthusiasm for space that helped drive the 1960s space race. 

As a people, Americans were pretty meh about space in recent years. The Columbia shuttle explosion was unsettling and the Great Recession had a lot of people convinced that it was a waste of money to put funds into exploring the final frontier. 

And historically, public enthusiasm, or the lack thereof, has been crucial to NASA's relevance because it ties in pretty directly with NASA's funding — and without proper funding and real dedicated commitment from the president, Congress and the masses, NASA would never have gotten anywhere, as we've recently noted. 

This isn't the first time that NASA has tried to boost public support and enthusiasm for space travel. Once upon a time, back in the 1960s in the middle of the space race, President John Kennedy was intent on seeing NASA astronauts go to the moon and on giving the space agency the backing to make it happen, for complicated reasons. Sure, Kennedy probably (maybe) wanted to be a part of space exploration for the sake of exploring, but he also was dealing with the Cold War. Ever since the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik, the United States had been intent on beating the Soviets in the space race.

Kennedy was good at selling his vision to the public, and NASA quickly became skilled at the public relations that helped create public support for the space race. From the very beginning with Project Mercury, the astronauts and their wives were chosen carefully and the tons of publicity that they did was just a part of the job, especially for the high-profile guys like Alan Shepard and John Glenn. There were also NASA mission posters, "autographed" photos (there were so many requests that somebody came up with a machine to churn the signed photos out) and toy models of the spacecraft. 

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Back then, it seemed like every American kid dreamed of being an astronaut and every TV in the United States was tuned in to watch NASA astronauts pull off the next big feat. In retrospect, it's pretty clear none of that happened by accident. 
Now, here we are again. NASA is once more achieving remarkable accomplishments and is doing everything it can to get people excited about Mars, to make space exploration cool again, and to encourage people to want to become astronauts. It's a familiar setup. There's even the old tensions with Russia to deal with — earlier this month, President Obama made his most pointed move yet when he announced he was sending more arms to Eastern Europe to deter Russian aggression in the region.

It's hard to say if we'll end up in another space race, the Mars edition, with Russia (especially since the oil bust is hitting Russia pretty hard and these space dreams take money), but it's fascinating to see such similar dynamics settling into place just as NASA is really gearing up to make the Mars vision a reality.

Either way, NASA has once again become savvy in its marketing and appeal. Maybe that will pay off with astronauts landing on Mars in the 2030s, as NASA officials have planned.

At the very least, it means we get these awesome posters:

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