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Helping Astronauts to Manage Info Overload

Helping Astronauts to Manage Info Overload

For long duration missions, astronauts need to maintain constant communication with mission control and manage massive amounts of data so that they can diagnose and repair problems with their spacecraft and their own bodies in the event of injury. The Magic Windows communication project, developed as part of a partnership between RISD and NASA, sought to simplify the manner in which astronauts receive and navigate large amounts of data.

Funded through the Rhode Island Space Grant, Magic Windows offered a multimedia communication and information system designed to make spacecraft more livable and functional. The system was designed to be used for teleconferencing, replacing printed manuals and displaying mission-related information and procedures, among many other applications.

In developing the system, designers led by Michael Lye BID 96, a senior critic in ID, had to juggle a number of non-negotiable requirements, including the need to be able to toggle seamlessly between mission control, procedural manuals, real-time flight data and transmissions among astronauts. The new system also had to incorporate an integrated illumination system and the projection of information in peripheral vision.

In the course of designing such a complex system, students had to develop multiple concepts and prototypes, and repeatedly test various scenarios through intensive simulations. The final concept was well received at NASA and the team also pointed out the potential terrestrial applications for such a system – in science experiments, equipment repair and interactive entertainment.