2014 | Samantha Cristoforetti

Making Friends in Space

Interactive, Dataviz, Storytelling, and Experience

Imagine saying “Hello!” to an astronaut in orbit. “Friends in Space,” the first social network to cover the cosmos, used data to create a connection between ordinary people and Samantha Cristoforetti: the first Italian woman in space.

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Brief

While gearing up for a trip to the International Space Station in 2014, Samantha Cristoforetti struck up a conversation with Accurat co–founder Giorgia Lupi on Twitter. She wondered if there was an opportunity to collaborate with the data that her sojourn at the ISS would generate. Cristoforetti cherished opportunities to sync up with fans—she had 84,000 Twitter followers at the time—so we embarked on a mission to build her a new type of platform to keep in touch with followers while she floated miles above them.

“She liked the idea of doing something that wasn't scientific,” Lupi told Wired magazine. “Something that reminded people on Earth that there is a human up there talking to them.” With terabytes of data to work with, our primary challenge was to design an experience that brought home the feeling of a personal connection against astronomical odds.
In conceptualizing a platform, we took inspiration from the magic of ordinary meetings and ultimately decided on a friendly greeting for users to establish contact with Cristoforetti. The app’s nexus would be a green button with one word: “Hello!” Data fueled the experience, but a simple salute determined the course of development.

Meanwhile, we brainstormed additional features that would keep users engaged over the course of Cristoforetti’s six-month mission. We considered the audience’s likely interests and the broader motif of serendipitous encounters and determined to include components that allowed users to follow along with the journey and connect with like–minded armchair astronauts in the process.

Solution

Friends In Space launched on November 24, 2014: one day after Cristoforetti herself launched into orbit. After logging in with a Twitter or Google+ account, users were greeted with a map of the earth that showed their location as well as Cristoforetti’s. Whenever she passed directly overhead, they could send a "Hello!" to her in space.
Elsewhere, the web app offered an unprecedented peek into life aboard the ISS, with graphics that visualized the crew’s daily log of activities and a live feed of audio and video. In another section, users could explore visualizations of past, current, and future orbits. They could also see other followers, halfway across the world or next door. Accounts linked, they could easily connect and spark conversations on Twitter or Google+. In the end, Cristoforetti wasn’t the only one to make “Friends In Space.”
Cristoforetti and logged–in users are shown in the primary map view. "Hello!"s sent and received create data points that resemble constellations.
The 'Control Room' section showed a user's activity in relation to Cristoforetti's. Visualizations showing the crew's daily activity acted as a "visual diary" of the expedition, as Accurat co-founder Gabriele Rossi describes it.
Users can access historical information from the mission—i.e. orbits completed.
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Throughout the centuries, people have looked to the stars to help them navigate oceans and deserts, know when to plant and harvest, and preserve their culture with myths and folklore. The night sky has always brought people together to share in a sense of wonder and amazement. Friends In Space pays homage to ancient traditions with trailblazing technology, co-commanded by a first–in–her–class pioneer.

Results

Just three weeks after launch, two million “Hello!”s had been sent to Cristoforetti via Friends In Space. In total, thousands logged on for the length of Cristoforetti’s stay at the ISS. Back on earth, the web app was the subject of dazzling coverage in mainstream publications including Wired, Time, Fast Company, Vogue, Vanity Fair, and other outlets.

“Friends In Space is a fascinating site to toy around on. The visualizations and interactions are simple enough to make the data easy to grasp, but it’s complex enough that you’ll want to spend some time exploring, seeing how much more you can discover about the mission. Every so often a fuzzy conversation between the astronauts and mission control will pipe into your speaker—it’s a nice reminder of the wonderment that comes with space travel. In real time you’re hearing someone currently stationed far beyond our comprehension communicating with someone back on Earth. Now, we have the chance—no matter how simple a “hello” is—to communicate back.”

— Wired Magazine, 2014
Team
Giorgia Lupi
Francesco Merlo
Alex Piacentini
Simone Quadri
Gabriele Rossi
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
Vanity Fair
Vogue
Fast Company
Time
Services
Interactive
Dataviz
Storytelling
Experience
Dataviz, Experience, WebApp, and Mobile App Design
Dataviz, Editorial, and Experimental
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