2014 | Samantha Cristoforetti

Friends in Space

Interactive, Dataviz, Storytelling, and Experience

Have you ever said hello to an astronaut in space? Friends in Space is an experimental online application that uses data to create a human connection between people on Earth and the first Italian woman astronaut.

Brief

Samantha Cristoforetti is the first Italian woman who traveled to the International Space Station, as an astronaut for the European Space Agency. A conversation sparked between Samantha and our team on Twitter in early 2014, while she was preparing for her mission, and led to her asking if Accurat could imagine and build a meaningful experience using the data from her mission to reach out to people as she flew above them. (Talk about best possible clients ever…)

Accurat imagined, designed, and developed what a scientific magazine called the first social network that extends beyond Earth; a web-based digital app that combined real-time data streams from the International Space Station and a distributed data protocol to create a collective visual experience for thousands of users connected from all over the world at the same moment.

Solution

A mission to the ISS comes with terabytes of data from sensors about anything we could possibly imagine, and we had more data than we could possibly use, but why would any of this really matter? People don’t want more data; they want to understand, to be part of a great achievement, such as space travel, which is the real message behind the numbers. The story we needed to tell is that there was a human being in a tin box flying in space above our heads — something you could actually see with the naked eye on a clear night. Samantha was up there; all people wanted was to see her presence in our night skies through her data. So we decided to use data to create a connection between her and all of the people looking at her from below. We designed and developed a web app that simply let you say “hello” — the most basic and universal interaction to acknowledge someone’s presence — to Samantha when she was orbiting above you, and “hello” to all of the people who were online at the same time from all over the world. And ultimately we wanted her to be able to say “hello” back to the world, communicating “I am there, flying among the stars,” using Twitter from the ISS.
Throughout the centuries, people have looked to the stars to help them navigate across open oceans or featureless deserts, know when to plant and harvest, and preserve their myths and folklore; the stars and the space around them always brought people together, as they contemplated the immensity of the universe and used it as a canvas for their imagination, dreams, and stories. Friends in Space is an homage to this ancient tradition, a new way to extend social networks beyond our planet, and connect people from all over the world to Samantha as she orbited the Earth in the ISS among the billions of stars above us.
Placing users and Samantha in the same picture and acknowledging her presence and location by eliminating the vertical distance encouraged people to see data from a very different perspective: it all suddenly became much more about our human nature, our curiosity, rather than technology.
All the hellos create multiple constellations of friends united by their curiosity for space ad for the unknown.
In your personal Control Room you have access to all the information regarding your experience: how many kilometers have you travelled with Sam? How many orbits were you part of?
Go back in time and see where Samantha was in a specific moment, who said hello to her and watch the photographs of the Earth she has taken from space.

Process

Crafting the user experience for Friends in Space made us realize how very simple and basic gestures and actions can become incredibly powerful tools in the hands of a designer. We sometimes forget that the simplest things are often the most effective and memorable. Data powered our work, but in fact, a very simple and human way of looking at it drives the experience, playing with the simplicity of the gesture of waving and saying hello from where you are to other places, on Earth and beyond it. We solved multiple technical challenges while building this complex app and, in so doing, we created a dynamic and participatory interactive experience for the thousands of people connected simultaneously, in which the input of each user was immediately reflected on all open browsers.

Results

During the six months Friends in Space was live, we saw thousands of people from all over the world connect with each other and continue the conversation on social media. This experience and the incredibly positive response of its users taught us an important lesson: keeping a design-driven approach to data from the very early stages of a project is how we can transform the abstract and the uncountable into something that can be seen, felt, and reconnected to our lives and to our behaviors. Friends in Space was featured prominently in Wired, Vogue, Fast Company, Fusion, Vanity Fair, Time magazine, and other periodicals.
Team
Giorgia Lupi
Gabriele Rossi
Simone Quadri
Francesco Merlo
Alex Piacentini
Marco Vettorello
Capt. Samantha Cristoforetti
Paolo Amoroso
Brigitte Bailleul
Eico Neumann
Remco Timmermans
Paolo Attivissimo
Anne Cpamoa
Nick Howes
Riccardo Rossi
Michael Sacchi
Marco Zambianchi
Lionel Ferra
Olivia Haider
Jane MacArthur
Simone Corbellini
Press
Wired
This App Lets You Say Hello to an Astronaut in Real Time.
Vogue
Space, the Final Frontier (for Social Media).
Fusion
Friends in Space is a networking site for the space geek in all of us.
Services
Interactive
Dataviz
Storytelling
Experience

Dataviz, Consulting, Guidelines, and Branding

Interactive, Dataviz, Storytelling, and Experience