T-MINUS 6000

My dad worked at Kennedy Space Center when I was a kid, and so unsurprisingly, I have a lot of interest in space programs. This ArcGIS StoryMap was created to highlight and explore data derived from Jonathan C McDowell’s website, Jonathan’s Space Report, and covers every attempted rocket launch to orbit around the world between 1957 and 2020.

A great majority of the time spent on this project was just processing, formatting, researching, and supplementing the data with additional information until I had a suitable GIS layer for teasing out the story and visualizations that I wanted to show. A very boring process to describe, yet it was definitely the most difficult part of the project.

The second most time consuming part was researching and writing up the brief history of the 36 launch sites included in the story. Some places (like Cape Canaveral or Baikonur) had such a rich history that it was difficult to distill it all down into a mere 100 words, while other places had so little information available that it was difficult to write anything at all.

The monochromatic look of the StoryMap was something I settled on after several prior colorful iterations. This included an initial concept where the top of the StoryMap would be the nose of a rocket and as you scrolled down, it would mimic panning down the body of a rocket until you reached the engines at the end of the story, but I wasn’t able to get that concept to a point I was happy with within the current limitations of the StoryMap builder. (This spirit of this concept was reused for the tall, centered bar chart and timeline of total launches.) I’m very pleased with the final look, however, which was inspired by the sort of monochromatic computer displays you might have found during the height of the space race. It was challenging and exciting to try and show everything with such a limited color range of just full black or full white, with no greyscale gradients in between.

The graphics were all created using Inkscape. Each of the 36+ rocket and vehicle silhouettes were made using the best side-profile diagram or image of the vehicle I could find. I generally tried to choose a rocket for each operator that was noteworthy in some way, either their most iconic or most prolific vehicle. The animated charts were made with Flourish and it was quite a learning process to get them to match the black and white theme completely.

The StoryMap was featured by the ESRI StoryMaps team as one of the top community StoryMaps of 2021.

While the StoryMap is enjoyable on mobile, it is best experienced on larger displays in full screen.

Link to Full Screen

Aaron Koelker
Please contact me if you\'d like to use or feature my work, I\'d be happy to share it.