Mapping the New Shepard Astronaut Experience

Space flight is quickly becoming a reality for the everyday citizen. And with time, it will be embraced as the norm for commercial travel. This is not only an exciting prospect for the advancement of space culture, but it personally excites me because I believe space is the next frontier for public health promotion and protection.

Blue Origin has an ambitious plan to use New Shepard to send tourists into outer space where they will experience weightlessness and view Earth from 100km above its surface. I decided to take a look at how users may experience this new service. I used information from BlueOrigin.com, online research and stories, conversations with fellow space enthusiasts and my imagination to piece together a hypothetical ideal user (aka astronaut) experience.

This is mapped out in three parts:

  1. Astronaut-centered design – an approach for designing the experience
  2. Guiding principles – values to express and guide the experience
  3. Experience map – what the astronaut is thinking, feeling, and doing throughout the service journey

Of course, the concepts and ideas in this post are a working hypothesis. To be truly representative and relevant, it must be co-created, tested and iterated upon with actual astronauts.

 

ASTRONAUT-CENTERED DESIGN

Designing the ideal experience requires an astronaut-centered design approach. That is, creating extraordinary experiences in outer space requires us to work with and for the user to bring their perspective into all aspects of the service journey. Though Jeff Bezos has always maintained a relentless focus on the customer, the importance of the user cannot be overstated.

The approach involves:

  • Understanding and designing for the needs and ambitions of the astronaut
  • Telling the story of the astronaut experience, from their perspective
  • Engaging astronauts as co-creators of their own experience

Example

The current New Shepard website has a primary focus on technology. One potential way to bring a stronger astronaut perspective to the site is to highlight the unique and visceral astronaut experience that Blue Origin offers (e.g., stunning views of Earth, weightlessness, etc.).

Left: New Shepard page, Aug 2018: Primary focus on tech. Right: New Shepard page, re-imagined: Primary focus on astronaut experience (e.g., Astronaut view of Earth)

 

GUIDING PRINCIPLES

Below are proposed guiding principles that represent the values that shape and deliberately differentiate Blue Origin’s astronaut experience. Included are examples of how these principles may be embodied and expressed by the user.

Space for all: Enable accessible space travel for all and unite people through the shared experience

“It’s my turn to go to space”

Transformation: Inspire new forms of space exploration and technologies that advance our relationship with space and outlook on humanity

“This experience will change my life”

Trust: Set the standard for safe, sustainable space systems and technologies

“Blue Origin is the best and safest way to travel to space”

Empower: Enable people greater control over the decisions and actions that allow them to achieve their full potential

“I can make informed decisions and shape my experience”

Impact: Promote innovation that advances space culture and the aeronautics industry

“I’m contributing to something greater than myself”

 

EXPERIENCE MAP

The purpose of the map (PDF) is to highlight what the astronaut is doing, thinking and feeling throughout the service journey. It imagines what an ideal experience may look like and proposes a set of service offerings. Key points about this experience map are highlighted below.

Simple yet sophisticated The journey is designed to be an accessible and straightforward experience, with processes that feel comparable to booking and flying with a commercial airliner. Though it’s easy to capitalize on the novelty of space travel (at least for now), the focus here is to create a high quality standard for everyone, and avoid elements that privilege some consumers over others or makes the experience feel luxurious or out of reach.

Empowering astronauts With only six astronauts on board and no flight crew, New Shepard is a highly intimate and empowering experience. It may be helpful to consider how to leverage onboarding and training as opportunities to build trust among astronauts in preparation for the flight. Creating a clear visual language, communications and procedures will also be critical to ensuring astronaut success.

Service ecosystem The Blue Origin Concierge manages logistics and activities on behalf of the astronaut, coordinating across various services (Lodge, Astronaut Centre, Media Services) to ensure a seamless user experience from booking to post-flight. As the central hub of the service system, the concierge is the astronaut’s host throughout their journey with Blue Origin.

Media management Throughout the journey, Blue Origin manages media capture and distribution before, during and after the flight. This enables astronauts to be present in the moment and focused on the experience of being in outer space. It also minimizes distraction and the safety risks associated with having astronauts manage their own multimedia. As a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it is important to develop a strategy to ensure high quality media is captured.

Health and wellness Astronaut health is assessed/monitored throughout the journey (booking, onboarding, in-flight, post-flight) to ensure their wellness and safety. A smart wristband is proposed as a form of security/ID and health monitoring for this purpose. Pre-flight, there may also be an opportunity to engage astronauts in wellness programming that prepares them for the flight, and helps them reach/maintain optimal health.

 

NEXT STEPS

Conducting research with prospective and actual astronauts will generate data and insights that can shape a robust astronaut strategy, and enable the creation of additional tools that will help enhance the customer experience (customer profiles, service blueprints, etc.). This will bring this work to the next level. For now, I welcome your thoughts and feedback!

7 thoughts on “Mapping the New Shepard Astronaut Experience

  1. Thoughtful approach!

    I haven’t seen something like this before. Is this is common way to approach “experience design?”

    1. This is one of many ways to make an experience map. Doing a quick google search can show you how this can be built out in different ways.

      A great resource I always like to recommend is http://www.designresearchtechniques.com — it offers techniques that help generate insights and data that inform the way we design a user experience.

    1. Thanks for your comment.

      I see “space for all” as the ambition for companies like Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, etc. Though it may be costly or less accessible today, we’re still at the early stages of spaceflight. It’s similar to the commercial airline industry: with time the prices dropped, the tech became more advanced, and the industry became mainstream and integral to our everyday lives. I anticipate the same will happen for space travel.

  2. Looks great Andrea! I wonder what info is being collected now about paople what want to become astronauts. Ive heard it’s mostly wealthy men from more industrialized countries that are buying tickets for flights, so a great use case could focus on women.

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