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Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, in the afterglow of the Apollo space program, there was a real expectation that humans were about to begin moving into space. Before NASA’s exploration took a turn towards the robotic, we all had visions of living in pastoral landscapes sitting within spinning space stations.

While sci-fi writers have long been one of the main inspirations for imagining our future in space, one of the main people responsible for visualising that future was artist Don Davis. His images of toroidal space stations, created for NASA during the 1970s, have become iconic.

The work of Don Davis was featured in an episode of the recent documentary series, Artist Depiction, which profiled a number of ‘space artists’ including Charles Lindsay, Rick Guidice, Pamela Lee, William K. Hartmann, and Pat Rawlings. The Don Davis episode has been put on YouTube for us all to enjoy (embedded below) – if the series is up your alley, you can watch the other episodes via Amazon Prime, Labocine, and Vimeo.

It offers some wonderful insights into the history of how these NASA images came to be, and the thoughts and inspiration of the artists themselves, as they sought to inspire the rest of us. As Don Davis notes:

Even in the ’70s, it was a fresh idea, and it still has a freshness to it, because it’s not just people going in these space suits and protective gear to some hostile planet. It’s a transplanting of our world, of our liveable environment to a location beyond the earth. And that is an essential dream I think many people have of one day having the human race migrate to space and beyond the solar system eventually.

Once you have a closed environment, once you have a place to live that’s free of the gravity well of a planet, you can go almost anywhere, you could go to other stars and such if you’re used to living in a self-contained world, if you have the time. So I think that the general dream of humanity migrating into space, it is strong, it is continuing, and I think that the paintings I did back then continue to embody something of that ideal, something of the aspirations that people have had for it, ever since the space age began.

…These are all things that I had in the back of my mind. Just the enthusiasm for the idea in general, I tried to communicate that and keep that in my mind throughout the entire creative process.

You can view a hi-res gallery of NASA’s space station images, created by Don Davis and Rick Guidice, here, and also other amazing selections of Don’s NASA space art on his own website.