Next-generation mission planning and execution

As humanity ventures further and further into space, one of the challenges that NASA faces is the effect of communication delay on mission planning. From Mars, communication to Earth and back can take up to an hour, which causes serious consequences in terms of executing a plan. Because the crew in space cannot instantaneously communicate with mission control on Earth, neither side has true awareness of the state of the other. Playbook is the tool being developed to study and address some of these delay-related challenges, specifically with plan execution and operational communication.

Role: Design Lead

Contribution: UX/UI Design, Design System Development, Design Strategy, Domain/User Research, Usability Testing, QA Testing

Team/Timeframe: NASA/Current


Research in the space exploration domain is very unique. Not only does our team review and publish academic literature, but we also often deploy alongside our tools to the extreme environments in which they are used, from the bottom of the ocean to the tops of volcanoes. Through hours of contextual inquiry, participant observation, discussion, and data synthesis, we’ve gathered a tremendous amount of knowledge of the challenges related to planning and execution for deep space exploration, which ultimately informs the capabilities that Playbook will need to provide.


Through an iterative human-centered design process, our team has grown Playbook’s capabilities to include mission planning, constraint modeling, mission execution, multimedia communication, communication delay simulation, and more. Playbook is a unique planning tool designed to address unique requirements. Because our users operate in environments that demand high cognitive loads, Playbook features are designed to make complex planning systems more easily understandable and actionable.

On the software development side, Playbook is informed by a newly developed design system.


The majority of our opportunities to test the tool with users comes when Playbook is deployed on NASA missions. Missions serve as the most realistic platform for testing, encompassing nearly all aspects of an expected use environment for Playbook, including simulated communications delay, stakeholders, hardware/software protocols, processes/procedures, physical location, environmental conditions, and more.

In these situations, we get to use contextual inquiry, participant observation, remote observation (via built-in recording), and surveys to assess the usability and efficacy of the features we have designed. On a more regular, day-to-day basis, due to the highly precious time of astronauts and mission personnel, we assess general usability through the use of naive colleagues and think-aloud methodologies.


Playbook has been used by veteran astronauts aboard the International Space Station and is the de facto operational planning and execution tool for many of NASA’s "analog" missions in extreme environments, including underwater (NEEMO), on volcanoes (BASALT and HI-SEAS), and in isolation habitats (HERA). It is a critical component of mission software, and we have regularly received positive feedback on its capabilities and usability, which is high praise given its use in high-stakes environments. Playbook development is continuous, and it is currently being adapted for new requirements as NASA prepares humans for a return to the Moon and an eventual visit to Mars.