Our field research began with a three-day visit to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. There, we spoke with flight-planners involved in making sure schedules and procedures are executed efficiently, as well as engineers working on the next-generation environments where our product may be used.
During our research period, we were fortunate to have opportunities to speak with two astronauts about their experiences in space, albeit briefly in one instance. One had recently returned from ISS and was giving an outreach talk, while the other was retired and serves on the faculty of a university.
We conducted semi-structured interviews with two aquanauts who have previously served on NASA’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) missions; they also have knowledge of and have otherwise supported NASA’s Desert Research and Technology Studies (DRATS), the Flashline Mars Research Station at Devon Island, and the Pavilion Lake Research Project missions. In general, both noted a tension at NASA between an engineering-centered culture, where everything that is flown on a mission is optimally designed for performance and efficiency, and a user-centered culture, where technical efficiency might take a backseat to usability or friendliness.
Critical issues emerged from our research into human spaceflight that are common with many other domains— inventory management, complex communication, and authority tension, to name a few. Identifying domains facing as many of these issues as possible, we set out to discover their individual solutions, seeking insights transferable to problems faced in space. We ideated several research foci to investigate, and began to brainstorm analogous domains in which we could observe work in context.
- We observed the following analogous domains:
- Automotive repair
- Stage management
Here we present an abstracted model of procedure execution in space. In researching analogous domains, we carefully considered how the roles and systems within those domains mapped to those of the model. This mapping guided our research approach for contextual inquiries and interviews.