An App for NASA’s ISS

Back in the 1960s – and for a quite a few decades after that – NASA was a popular household name. The government organization had managed to send multiple missions to the moon and beat the Soviet Union to it after an early scare with Sputnik. The organization helped technology develop rapidly; we use many of NASA’s spin-off technologies today. We have them to thank for LEDs, chemical detection improvements, freeze drying, artificial limb tech, and a host of other beneficial technologies.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, NASA seemed to lose its spark. People cared less and less about NASA’s missions. It seemed as though it became just another government organization that did stuff without many people paying attention. That all changed with the Mars Curiosity rover. Why? Because NASA had accomplished something brand new, and they weren’t afraid to brag about it. NASA utilized social media and the internet to spread awareness and information about the mission constantly. They finally entered the 21st century, and they became quite popular again.

NASA Borrows from Other Apps

Despite the fact that NASA has been known to provide technological innovation and enhancements, the recent news about the organization tells us that this time, they are borrowing from others. News from last night shows that NASA has a new App for space fans, specifically for fans of the International Space Station. According to Jamie Condliffe at Gizmodo, “NASA has launched a new service which will pop you a text message or email whenever the [ISS] is about to pass over your place.” It seems NASA is continuing to embrace social media and tech to promote themselves.

The new app/service, titled Spot the Station, works much like many popular apps on the market for phones and computers that have automatic or helpful reminders. For me, the first thing that came to mind was Foursquare in that the app provides location sensitive and useful information to the consumer.

According to Alexis Santos at Endgadget, the Spot the Station app utilizes information calculated by NASA’s Johnson Space Center “for more than 4,600 places across the globe” and sends you a text message or email, which will inform users of when the ISS is visible in the sky! Maybe a NASA employee was inspired by Foursquare – or another useful app with such a feature – when he or she created the Spot the Station app.

Smart Thinking, NASA

NASA used the attention it received from the November 2, twelve-year anniversary of the ISS to start spreading awareness about the Spot the Station app. Creating and spreading this app is a great example of how organizations and corporations can use ideas from apps that seem to be completely unrelated. Who would have thought a concept from Foursquare – or another popular location/information app that relies on alerts – could have anything to do with the ISS or NASA? It came as a surprise to me.

I’ve always been a huge fan of NASA, despite how easily its popularity rises and falls in public opinion. Like I mentioned before, I really think the Curiosity Rover demonstrated a new direction for NASA.
The agency is actively engaging social media, Twitter, and other internet platforms to communicate and interact with people. At best, this new focus could inspire the next great scientists of our country. At worst, at least it keeps people thinking about the work NASA does and the fact that there have been people orbiting our planet for 12 years now. I think NASA is going to stay popular for years to come, especially if they keep up the good work being open, funny, and talkative.

A Lesson for All of Us

With the Spot the Station app, NASA demonstrated a little bit of genius as well as an important lesson. With the new focus on social media and technology to spread awareness, I would say its safe to presume that people behind Spot the Station took some pointers from apps already on the market. They likely realized apps that rely on alerts and timely information like Foursquare are highly useful and extremely successful. NASA was able to take ideas from apps that are seemingly unrelated to anything about NASA and create a simple app that focuses on the concepts that are attractive to users. And now we can all find out when to watch the ISS fly overhead, aware that NASA is doing amazing things.

Do you look to other successful apps, technologies, companies, or brands, to find inspiration and new ideas for your clients?

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Patrick currently lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, where he is studying for a Master's Degree in Intercultural Relations. Upon graduation from Penn State in 2008, he spent two years overseas in Kyrgyzstan with the U.S. Peace Corps. While writing is currently his chosen way to put food on the table, he loves fitness and exercise, which he believes makes up for his avid computer gaming habit.

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