Astronauts and Hand Shadow Play
In my MSc thesis I was interested in exploring the opportunities that design may present to the extreme circumstances of outer space. In particular, I wanted to understand the impact space has on astronauts and their experience on board the International Space Station (ISS) during long-term missions. Unfortunately, I could not interview astronauts, so I reviewed existing online material about astronauts' experiences in space.
I found out that in enclosed space, astronauts' social contact with their families and friends as well as other people on Earth was important for the astronauts' overall wellbeing. Another important aspect was physical exercise as astronauts' bodies changed due to the exposure to micro-gravity, which can result in reduced bone density, dexterity and among other negative consequences. Since I did not have access to astronauts, I wanted to find a fitness center where I could engage with people and discuss their experiences with exercising. I joined a small local gym with a small amount of members who made the gym a friendly and playful environment, to get a different perspective on working out while also encouraging social contact within the gym.
Sketches and Prototypes
My design process alternated between reviewing online material, engaging with gym members, and exploring ideas through sketches and low-fidelity prototypes. My ideas revolved around exercising and socializing at distances. Existing solutions for training in space targeted bigger muscle groups and compound movements, as well as the cardiovascular system. I decided instead to explore how astronauts could maintain their dexterity and combine that with social contact with people on Earth. From my review of online material, I also found out that astronauts on board ISS are frequently talking to schoolchildren about what it is like to be in space, which further influenced my direction of ideas.
I developed a simple hand wearable for straining the forearm muscle that are responsible for people's hands/fingers dexterity. I tested this wearable with the gym members doing simple activities such as playing dart, and found that it put off the members' hand-eye coordination in that the wearable's resistance slowed the hands' reaction time and increased the strain on the forearm over time. This approach could be used to compensate the lack of gravity and maintain hand/finger dexterity to some extent. Astronauts contributing to the educational part of schoolchildren's understanding of space inspired me to look into hand shadow play. Hand shadow play presented a variety of possibilities to design for and could be one approach in connecting astronauts and children through playful education while maintaining the astronauts' dexterity.
My thesis is available here.