Every year since 1958 the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has been creating and releasing annual reports about technological advancements within the industry – both domestically and internationally. The entirety of these reports cover everything from the lunar missions to the inventions of the space shuttle; they speak to studies of the Earth’s atmosphere, the space race, politics, the cold war, and technological advancements. When Popular Science approached The Office for Creative Research to visualize this rich source of data we gladly accepted.
Besides the challenge of getting the data into a readable format [the older reports were in a non-ocr’d pdf format], we had to find a way to gauge and assign a level of significance to the different stories and concepts. We did this by splitting and cataloguing each article by time and comparing the keywords to New York Times articles from the same time period. A NASA article with the word ‘moon’ around July 1969 would have probably shared words with a few news articles in the New York Times. Knowing that these news articles were on the front page elevated the status of these words for that time period. On the other hand, if a word was commonly found in the NASA reports during a time period but failed to appear in the first few pages of the Times then we assigned it a lesser level of importance.
The articles were split into one of hand picked six categories. The terms were assigned a location within each stream and the more important ones were made larger. Graphically, the streams ran from left to right across decade markers with small illustrations hinting to the newest space technology of the era. Dotted lines ran above and below the graphic, indicating the percent of the federal budget and the millions of 2007 dollars respectively. Lastly, some of the common gerunds found in the text were spread around the graphic, illustrating the type of activity discussed in the documents.