The International Space Station (ISS) has been operating continuously for over a decade, and is expected to continue to provide unique opportunities for microgravity science and human habitation for at least another ten years. ISS Live! aims to make large portions of both real-time planning and telemetry data available to the public for the first time via an iOS (iPhone/iPad) application as well as a web portal. The objective is to increase the visibility of the ISS and rise public’s awareness of the fascinating activities going on there.

Activity entries in crew schedules contain countless acronyms, abbreviations, and references to specific hardware or payloads. Also, with the mass amount of telemetry data, we need to understand which ones would be interesting to novices in order to resonate with people.

Role: Co-Project Manager (Internal team coordination, faculty contact point)
Duration: 01.2011 – present
Skills: Project Management, Requirement Gathering, User Research, Development
Tools: OmniGraffle, InDesign, Basecamp, iPhone/iPad SDK

WARNING! Before you process down and look at the rather outdated content, check out the project website to get a complete picture of what we did :)

Current Progress

For the capstone project of my masters program, I got to work on this project with NASA. We’re currently wrapping up our user research and heading towards the synthesis phase. Check out the latest updates on our website!

Focus Setting

The project was officially kicked of in the start of January where we met with our mentors from NASA Ames HCI group to touch base and clarify requirements. During late January, two members on our team got to attend a NASA developers’ conference at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Los Angeles. There, they met with some of the main stakeholders on the project and obtained a better understanding of the overarching project goal. Also, by networking with the NASA educational outreach office, we were able to gain insights that allowed us to narrow down our targeted user groups. Some of the main takeaways were:

  • Interactive visuals are better than text.
  • Less is more. Give the gist.
  • Learn for a greater purpose.
  • No tech-talk. Connect with stories.
  • Challenge the social tendencies.

Through these takeaways and further communication with our clients, we were then able to generate our hunt statement:


“Understand what excites high school and college students about space and science in order to bring NASA back into the home.”

User Research Phase

With our focus we identified three main groups for doing user research.

We hope to discover what kids are interested in and what qualities pique their excitement. Research was done with 10 to 11th graders in the form of group activities and interviews. Also, we want to understand how people find and use mobile science applications and how they browse scientific website. This was achieved by conducting Contextual Inquiries to observe college freshmen with a set of given tasks.

Finding Highlights:

  • Space could be interesting, but students don’t learn about it after a certain point.
  • Some things that are key in piquing interest include aesthetics/visual appeal, as well as the “experience.”

From the educators we hope to discover the best practices of teaching and communicating science information with students. We conducted field research in high schools where we observed how a science class is conducted, what worked and what didn’t. This was followed up by a retrospective interview with the teacher to learn more about his/her teaching techniques.

Finding Highlights:

  • Use different teaching methods for different students; hands-on is key.
  • Relate things back to their world.

NASA Flight Controllers
We want to understand crew activities, telemetry data, & their potentially interesting qualities. Also, discover what captivated current employees about space and NASA. Research was done during our trip to the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Observations and interviews were done with 8 NASA flight controllers.

Finding Highlights:

  • There is a difference between interesting and frequent activities.
  • Activities that interest flight controllers are often categorized as high-risk or may involve intense coordination and teamwork.
  • The international collaboration aspect of the Space Station is fascinating to NASA personnel.

More findings can be found in our presentation slides

What’s Next?

Our next step is to start synthesize the large amount of data we’ve collected in our user research and extract design ideas. We will also construct user study session geared towards ideation, such as participatory design. And by the end of the spring semester we will have a clear vision ready to be realized.