Say Hello to an Astronaut in Space

giorgia lupi
Dec 16, 2014 · 6 min read

and learn how simple, yet powerful, human connections can be.

Friends in Space is the first social network that extends beyond Earth:
an interactive data driven experience
we imagined, designed and developed at Accurat.

Friends in Space is conceived and designed to build a real-time human connection between people from all over the world and the first Italian woman astronaut, Samantha Cristoforetti, who has been launched on the I.S.S. last Sunday, to be part of the Futura42 mission.

It is a proof of concept to investigate how digital connections between people can be aesthetically pleasant and leave room for wonder, poetry and imagination: an exploration on the power of a beautiful interactive experience to trigger people to use and be part of a digital application.

…Is it possible to build a social platform playing around the basic action of saying hello? If an astronaut is involved, the answer might be yes.

With Friends in Space we wanted to build a data-driven experience that actually links people through a very essential interaction.

In fact, the core idea of Friends in Space is very simple: you log in with your social profiles (Twitter, Facebook, Google+) and you can see Samantha’s real-time position above your head, as well as a map of all the people around the world that are online on the platform in that moment.
Through a simple digital gesture you can send your “Hellos” to Sam and to all your new star-gazing friends. You will also see and receive a feedback when she says “Hello” to all the people below her, using Twitter directly from the ISS.
(During its first 3 weeks of life, Friends in Space already hosted over 2 Millions of interactions — i.e. Hellos!)

Thanks to Friends in Space you will be able, for the first time, to actually wave to an astronaut and, if you are lucky enough, you will see her waving back at you (yes — she is sending her “HelloEarth” from the I.S.S. from time to time!), while navigating a fascinating interactive environment that features real time details about her mission.

Seeing Yourself on the Map Might Make You Skip a Heartbeat

As you enter the application for the first time, you are catapulted into a universe of dynamic little colored dots, planets and constellations hovered by the yellow trace of the I.S.S. that progressively completes its orbit and a beautiful image of the earth seen from above in the background.

It might take a few seconds before you realize that those little symbols indicate all of the people that right now are on-line with you on Friends in Space, represented through their location on a world map.
As soon as you realize that one of those little dots is you, the fun begins.

From the interface you can show or hide the geographic map, and zoom it to get to know your Friends in Space
Europe is burning of Hellos waiting for Samantha’s flyover!

Friends in Space started from a dreamy conversation on Twitter I had with Samantha, and it soon developed in a months-long collective discussion involving space enthusiasts and professionals from all around the world, that finally led to the design and development of the interactive application you now see online.

It is a 100% independent and self-funded project we ideated, designed and developed at Accurat, with our great team of designers and developers led by Alex Piacentini and Marco Vettorello.

It is a labour of love.
We did it because we wanted to experiment on how real time data can be transformed in human and emotional interactive experiences, and connect people.

Bending the Space-Time Continuum

Friends in Space is built on 3 different explorable environments, the now, the past and the future: to explore Samantha’s mission in real time but also going back and forth to see what happened and what she will be doing next!

In the now view you can see Samantha’s real-time position in space on her orbit, as well as multiple dynamic and always different “constellations” of friends; united by their curiosity for space and for the unknown.
In the background of the main view are a realtime HD video image of Earth streaming from the cameras mounted on the ISS and the voices of the astronauts coming from up there!

Use your imagination: when you are below the current trajectory you’re flying with Sam: you’re “on orbit”! How far are you from it? When will she orbit above you next time? Who is “on orbit” with you?
In the past view you are able to see where Samantha was in a specific moment, who said hello to her, her Twitter feed mapped on the ISS trajectory and watch the photographs of the Earth she has taken from space; the app remembers all the hellos you said, you might be in one of those pictures!

Both in the future and past views you will be soon able to explore all the past and planned activities on the ISS: from scientific experiments to routine maintenance, from space-walks to artificial day/night cycles.

In your personal control room you can plan your calendar to make sure you won’t miss Samantha’s next passage (this is also a feature that will be unlocked soon!) and you have access to all the information regarding your experience with the interactive app.

Your control room: an interactive collection of snapshots of all the orbits you took part in that you can easily share, the miles you traveled with Samantha and all the people that shared “an orbit” with you, your Friends in Space.

(and yes, people are excited!)

Future Feature — customizing your Hello, but just a little bit ☺

Wonder, Poetry, and Emotions - but Just One Button

As wrote: “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.”

The main interaction is limited by design: we wanted to play with the authentic simplicity of the gesture of waving and saying hello — instead of developing a dedicated messaging system — and leaving the actual conversations up to users’ Twitter profiles, thus building the “social part” of Friends in Space around the idea of being part of this map of the world that every time connects different people, with a bit of serendipity!

We wanted our Friends in Space to be a place able to foster an imaginative process of connection and discovery.

As pointed out: “Part of the charm of Friends in Space is this seamless ability to connect with strangers who share at least one interest, and seeing what part of the world is in your app-defined orbit.”

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 the ancient tradition of looking up to the sky together, a new way to extend social networks beyond our planet.

We wanted to speak to people that are fascinated by the topic of space, and eventually being able to give them a little moment of joy through our application: people would recognize themselves on the map merging the physical and the digital and connecting with others from all around the world, others that are feeling the same emotions in the same moment.

If you like the idea of Friends in Space you can:

_learn more on how it works,
_have a look at some of the (beautiful!) images generated by users’ interactions,
_check out some of other Accurat’s works,
_write us an email,
_or simply go and play, and enjoy making new Friends in Space!


Accurat is an independent data visualization design and development studio.

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