NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio
NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio produces visualizations, animations, and images in order to promote a greater understanding of Earth and Space Sciences. We work closely with scientists — both within the NASA community, and within the broader academic research community — to create high-quality, data-backed visualizations.
NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio is based out of the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), located in Greenbelt, Maryland. The core studio consists of a team of (approximately) 15 visualizers, some of whom have been working with the studio for almost 30 years. The SVS's visualizers specialize in a wide variety of disciplines — astronomy, planetary science, climatology, cartography, and 3D modeling (to name a few) — but are united by a common love of making science accessible.
NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio was founded by Jim Strong at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in 1990. Jim would soon be joined in 1991 by visualizer Horace Mitchell, who would go on to head the department all the way until his retirement in 2019. The studio was originally founded to create visualizations to go alongside NASA research publications – which still constitute the vast majority of the studio’s work to this day. In the studio’s early days, much of our work focused on creating (near) real-time visualizations: grabbing data from NASA satellites, processing it as rapidly as possible, and producing high-quality, more digestible visualizations.
By 1997, the studio’s focus shifted from real-time visualization technologies (that were primarily research-oriented) towards non-real-time, pre-rendered visualizations aimed towards public outreach. Around this time, the studio also began working closely with the NASA Public Affairs Office (now Office of Communications) to get our visualizations out to a wide variety of news outlets, film production companies, and academic institutions.
By 2001, we had developed an extensive library of Betacam-SP tapes (NTSC) and needed a more easily-accessible way for the public to access our content. Thus, the SVS website was born. Since its inception, the SVS website has served as both a historical archive of our works and a place to keep up with the current research of NASA’s Earth and Space Science divisions. Around this time, the SVS also began working closely with our partner groups Conceptual Image Labs (CI Labs) and Goddard Media Studios (GMS) to publish a more diverse array of content. The website would formally begin hosting content from these two groups in 2006.
Conceptual Image Labs focuses more on the artistic side of things – producing high-fidelity renders using film animation and visual design techniques. Where the SVS primarily focuses on making data-based visualizations, CI Labs puts more emphasis on conceptual visualizations – producing animations featuring NASA spacecraft, planetary observations, and simulations.
Goddard Media Studios, on the other hand, is more focused towards public outreach – producing interviews, TV programs, and documentaries. GMS continues to be the main producers behind NASA TV, and as such, much of their content is aimed towards the general public.
Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, the SVS experimented with a wide variety of nascent virtual reality technologies. The work from this time period would later be repurposed and spun off into the NASA Hyperwall project: a multi-screen, high-resolution, wall-sized display. The Hyperwall would later be adopted for NASA public outreach efforts: traveling around the world to various conferences and being used for museum exhibits, scientific presentations, and multimedia shows. The website would begin formally hosting NASA Hyperwall content in 2010.
Our Content Partners
NASA's CI Lab is an award-winning studio with artists who work closely with astronomers, scientists and engineers to bring scientific theory, design and concepts to life in an accurate, yet visually compelling way.
With a passionate commitment for broadly sharing NASA’s bold research initiatives, The Goddard Media Studio tells stories like no one else in the universe. Fielding an impressive team of producers, animators, editors, and more, The Studio fuses hard science with exciting imagination to explain, translate, and ultimately inspire.
The Hyperwall is a big beautiful “wall" of high-definition screens used to display NASA’s latest and greatest data visualizations, images, videos, and other presentation material, and is a primary outreach platform for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Existing Hyperwall stories highlight themes in Earth science, heliophysics, planetary science, and astrophysics. The Scientific Visualization Studio developed the Hyperwall software.
Frequently Asked Questions
All of our content is in the public domain (unless otherwise noted), meaning that it is free to download, use, and redistribute for whatever purposes you see fit. For more information, see NASA’s media usage guidelines.
Note: some of our visualizations feature licensed music, which is not in the public domain. In these instances, the visualizations themselves are still in the public domain, meaning you're allowed to use them without the associated audio tracks. Individual visualizations will make note of this where applicable.
- Videos – Primarily
.webm. Some of our older content is also available in
- Frames – Most of our visualizations are accompanied by directories containing individual frames. These are generally released as
- Images –
The exact software used for visualizations varies from visualizer to visualizer, but here are some popular ones:
- 3D modeling / animation – Maya, Houdini
- Rendering – Pixar Renderman, SideFX Mantra
- Scripting – Python / C / IDL / C++
Fun fact! We were very early adopters of Python. Some of our early visualizations (2000 ~ 2002) were written in Python 1.6. The SVS was also a fairly early adopter of Renderman. Our first Renderman visualization (released in 2002) was created using BMRT (Blue Moon Rendering Tools), a Renderman compliant renderer.
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