What's up in space?
NASA looks to the global space enthusiast community for innovation once a year at its Space Apps Challenge, and we couldn't turn down a space hackathon. We looked through the list of challenges NASA had provided and decided that, with our skills, the mission roadmap challenge would be a great opportunity to push on how people would interact with the huge quantity of data about humanity's space endeavors. Since the website encouraged teams to arrive with some planning already done, we aimed to design most of our product in the two weeks before the event.
Our first step was to validate the assumed need: Do people want to know what's happening with space missions? We asked five people we knew, from NASA employees to people who knew nothing outside of Deep Impact, about their attitudes toward space and what they would want from such an application.
We found that space has not lost its glamour from the age of the Space Race and that people are nearly universally still interested in it, but that people want the information to somehow apply to their lives and allow them to interact with missions.
We went through the initial design phase by ideating separately and critiquing at in-person group meetings. We quickly settled on two main features: a timeline view of missions past, present, and future, to provide context and an understandable framework for mission information; and notifications about upcoming events, to provide people a way to feel involved with current missions. We decided that this would be a website, so more people would be able to access it, with mobile apps further along a product roadmap.
At the hackathon location in NYC, our team paired up with two high school students who were working on the same challenge and had similar existing designs. The new superteam divided into three designers, two developers, and a database builder. Since we had only novice web developers and two excellent iOS developers, we pivoted to an iPhone app, which meant that the design team had to work quickly to shrink the web designs to fit a phone. Harry and I built the app from Sharpie sketches in true Lean style. Twenty-four hours later, we were ready to demo our app.
We showed our research data (with some appropriate nerd laughs for Data) and demoed the app at the end of the hackathon. The judges decided to award us "Best Use of Data" locally!
After the hackathon, the whole team felt that we had a good product, and that it was worth a bit of extra work to bring it to the live App Store. We're already working on fixing the bugs (oops) and tweaking the visualization to make it even easier to browse the data, not to mention the huge amount of data to bring to the app. If you're into space, look for it later this summer.