The Whole Brilliant Enterprise

visualizing the history of space travel in NASA's own words

Date: Summer 2014
For: Popular Science

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is a public agency. This means that while they’re not hurtling objects into space, measuring the earth in novel ways, developing clever technologies, or freeze-drying foods, they’re filing reports. Lots of reports. For example, every year since 1958, NASA has released ‘Astronautics & Aeronautics Chronologies’, which outline the agency’s aerospace activities in science, technology and policy. For the July issue of Popular Science, OCR made a 4-page, 3,460-word visualization which tells the story of NASA’s history in the agency’s own words.

Popular Science also enlisted OCR to describe our process for creating the graphic, which involved parsing the chronologies, cross-referencing events with articles on the New York Times, and building a custom Natural Language Processing pipeline to determine important people and places.

The Whole Brilliant Enterprise was built using Processing. Text analysis was hugely assisted by Daniel Howe’s excellent RiTa toolkit.