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Dataschool Journal

Friends in Space

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

2014 — current
Samantha Cristoforetti
Interactive Dataviz Storytelling Experience

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 valued 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 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

Solution

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