Inspiration and Origins
From History and in Latin, to the Stars and Beyond
The name 'Astra' comes from the infamous Latin phrase "Per Aspera Ad Astra", which in English, translates to - 'Through Hardships to the Stars'. A fitting analogy to all the hardships and sufferings faced by astronauts in the line of civil duty while on missions in deep space and also countless days and nights sacrificed to prepare and train for the same. It is also a tribute and a respectful nod to the never ending curiosity and courage of mankind to explore, learn, and conquer the galaxy through enlightenment and knowledge.
Grounded, Humanistic, and Connected
Man is a social animal. We are born of this world and are dependent on it for survival. Hence even though we develop the technology to one day become an interplanetary species, we cannot achieve that goal unless we find a way to connect back, to our friends and family, and to the Earth itself. We cannot put a man on Mars and expect him to stay in isolation for the next 3 years. Astra explores an immersive way to let future astronauts not just stay in touch , but to live and explore the same space inhabited by their friends and family back on Earth.
Noble, Forward-Thinking, and Inspirational
Astra provides a scalable immersive solution to a challenging out-worldly problem through a noble, grounded, and humanistic approach. The system not only sparks all types of talks and conversations connecting future emerging technologies like virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and data halos, but also inspires people to think of the plausible possibilities of such a future and what can be achieved with it that can be beneficial in space, as well as on Earth.
Understanding the Challenge
Defining the Problem and Establishing Context
Knowing what truly is the challenge today in the world of advanced modes of transportation and defining the problem area is crucial before designing and brainstorming ideas for a change. This is applicable to every field and aerospace is no different. Hence understanding the background of a problem and its history is very important to establish context. Humans can solve any problem which arises, provided we first take time in evaluating the past and learn from it before designing for the future.
Imagine this scenario from the near future . . .
Space X's BFR shown for representational purpose only
In 2025, the first manned mission to Mars takes place, in a ship with a multi-national crew of 6 people
140 million miles
Average Distance to Mars
One way Journey to Mars
"ALL NECESSARY CONDITIONS TO PERPETRATE A MURDER ARE MET BY LOCKING TWO MEN IN A CABIN FOR TWO MONTHS."
~ Cosmonaut Valery Ryumin, 1980
"Outer Space is terrifying - not just on the body, but also on the mind."
~ Astronaut Scott Kelly
Astronauts have been known to suffer from a spectrum of physical and psychological symptoms of social isolation in space like-
- Difficulty sleeping
- Mood liability
- Feelings of discouragement
- Heightened nervousness or anxiety
- Other psychosomatic symptoms
- Post-flight personality changes
- Interpersonal tension
- Decreased cohesiveness
- Alteration in time sense
- Changes in perceptual sensitivities
- Having too much free time
Social Isolation is not a modern day hurdle or any new problem that man has not faced before. Instead, it has been there since the early ages when mankind set sails to explore the seas and oceans. Right from the era of the mighty Vikings , to Christopher Columbus or the thousands of sailors who faced the never ending waters for months at a time had the same question in mind- How to keep people sane, productive and functioning for the entire length of the journey, with no scenery change, the same food and routine day in and day out? Astronauts in the future will be facing the same tough situation when traveling to Mars or anywhere beyond.
How to stay Connected?
How to stay Sane?
Future Trend Research and Studying Case Studies, Articles, Books, and Documentation
Secondary research was done to study all the Government and Private Aerospace institutions, their future plans, and progresses over the years. Similarly, the endurance of human life and different cases of social isolation in extreme habitable places like the Arctic and Antarctic Research Facilities, Mars Mock-mission Dessert facilities, life aboard Submarines, and elderly people suffering from physical isolation were also studied and compared against the daily life of Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (I.S.S).
Exploratory Phase and Primary Research
Structured Qualitative Interviews, Intercept Interviews, Discussions, Conferences and Symposiums
Conducting Primary Research and getting to know the stakeholders and their pain points is the most important weapon in a designer's artillery. The stakeholders interviewed were NASA astronauts, aerospace experts, aviation and aerospace enthusiasts, psychologists, and designers. These were done using structured interview formats, intercept interviews, discussions and conversations through aerospace conferences, symposiums, and summits in Los Angeles area, and through online resources, social and digital media.
If you want to become an Astronaut, be ready to give up on lots of things and know that you are going to miss them dearly, every minute, for a long, long time.
All available face to face conversations get exhausted within the first 2 months and group projects are hard to come by at times.
The NASA engineers who designed the ISS, wanted it to look like 2001 Space Odyssey, that’s why it is so white on the insides!
The fear of disqualification is common among astronauts and hence hence they some times end up not signing up for the regular Psyche Evaluations while on a mission.
Social isolation is one of the most devastating things you can do to a human being, no matter their age.
Social isolation can be eased by simply giving a hug. Friendly platonic touching releases Oxytocin in the brain, lowers stress, boosts your immune systems, eases depression, and lessen fatigues.
Astronaut Interview Insights
Astronauts are like Glorified Technicians who maintain and keep all the equipment ready for the scientists and researchers on Earth to conduct different studies remotely.
Mostly they work on their own personal projects and rarely work in groups.
They have mandatory personal time before sleep allotted by NASA.
They live in a fully customizable environment inside the International Space Station.
The Prime Age of an astronaut is beyond their Reproductive Age due to concerns of cosmic radiation affecting reproductive capabilities in humans.
Post- mission rehabilitation is sometimes really difficult for them.
Brainstorming, Structuring the Concept, Developing Personas, and Building a Hypothesis,
After conducting Primary Research and getting to know the stakeholders and their pain points, the insights and all the knowledge gathered from this process was thoroughly analyzed using KJ coding methods and affinity mapping which resulted in valuable insights and opportunity spaces. Further, the problem space was defined and different concepts were developed and structured using already defined models. Four unique personas were fabricated to better understand the problem through a humane point of view and to develop solutions based on that. Finally a working hypothesis for a solution was formed which also summarized the concept.
Using Edward T. Hall's Interpersonal Proximity Model to structure day-to-day Oxytocin releasing activities
Hall's Interpersonal Proximity Model was used to structure the problem spaces and according to the insights, different activities done in our daily life which helps in releasing different levels of Oxytocin in our brains were brainstormed. These were structured and mapped against the Proximity Model to understand the different interpersonal spaces they naturally fall into. This also showed the problem space in general. Meaning, the physical on-Earth scenario between an astronaut, his family members and loved ones, and his co-workers, while comparing it to the physical in-space scenario where the astronaut is on a mission. The noticeable physical change in relationship spaces is what contributes to social isolation in space. (as shown below)
General Problem Space and Concept represented using Hall's Proximity Model
Persona 1: The Astronaut
DEDICATED, OBSERVANT, CONSCIENTIOUS, TENACIOUS
Status: Married with 2 children
Occupation: Active NASA Astronaut
Location: Houston (Texas)
Born in New Jersey, Electrical and System Engineer, Retired Naval Captain, 3 Space flight veteran and Commander of the ISS in 2 expeditions. Designated Naval Aviator with 8000+ flight-hours in 40 different aircraft and spacecrafts, Holds more than 200 carrier flight landings.
Experiences the world through the perception of opinions, prefers to take in and process information through his belief system.
Stay connected with his loved ones when on a mission and share what’s going on in each other’s lives. Be there for his son and wife always.
Prefers a democratic communication style with exchange of values. Prefers to be alone or interact one on one. Internally motivated by recognition of his dedicated work and convictions.
Teammates not living upto his expectations and having to do things which are against his beliefs and values.