The space race is on in Silicon Valley. SpaceX has a $1 billion contract with NASA to deliver shipments up to the International Space Station. Virgin Galactic wants to begin taking tourists into space in 2014. So too do a number of competitors in the space tourism space. Startup Weekend will even hold an event to work on space startups in May.
This offers engineers the opportunity to work on the challenges of building tech for space missions. But if the private space industry takes off, it will also offer exciting new opportunities for product design: the challenge of redesigning products for space.
This video of astronaut Chris Hadfield is an entertaining illustration of why. As an experiment suggested by several 10th graders, he wrings out a wet washcloth in the International Space Station to see what happens. (If you’re impatient, skip to the 2 minute mark.)
Novel challenges like zero gravity mean that any number of products are in need of reinvention for space. NASA and other space agencies have already tackled a number of these challenges. They’ve packaged drinks in tubes, modified sleeping bags to keep astronauts from bumping against the walls when they sleep, and introduced vacuum tubes for peeing.
But who wants to drink their Martian martini out of a tube? (Or, more pressingly, worry about their poop floating back up while they’re sitting on the toilet?) As more people join the ranks of astronauts and space tourists, designers will have a lot of opportunity to reinvent products to make them enjoyable and easy to use in space.
We’re not expecting many minimum viable products out of Startup Weekend in May. Building spaceships seems like it’s more than a weekend project. But maybe we’re not too far off from astronauts appearing at hackathons and being hired as design consultants as people get into the business of redesigning products for the final frontier.