Prepare to Design the Future
March 19–20, 2017: Training
March 20–22, 2017: Tutorials & Conference
San Francisco, CA

New realms for NASA's mission control visualization software: Design thinking and open source

Jay Trimble (NASA Ames Research Center)
3:35pm–4:15pm Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Bridging design, technology, and business
Location: California West
Level: Intermediate
Average rating: ***..
(3.00, 3 ratings)

Who is this presentation for?

  • Designers, developers, managers, and users

What you'll learn

  • Learn how to infuse design thinking into an organization by mapping from existing mental models
  • Understand why introducing new capabilities into an operational environment with existing work practices is a delicate balancing act that requires careful management, maintenance of existing capabilities during transition, and user advocacy within the organization
  • Explore NASA's Open MCT project, which brings mission control technologies into the open source world, facilitating participation and open exchange of ideas from a world that had been hidden behind mission consoles


NASA’s mission control systems are used for command and control, planning, navigation, and analysis of science and spacecraft data for spacecraft ranging from near Earth to the edge of the solar system. In this environment, mission success and safety are paramount, and innovation is secondary to risk reduction.

Two years ago, a small team at NASA embarked on a project to build a new mission control visualization system for robotic planetary explorers. The project had ambitious goals: bring design thinking and modern web technology to a diverse group of stakeholders in a systems engineering organization, empower users in a high-risk environment with features such as user composable displays, and take the design and technology from a closed domain and make it open source and available to a broader community.

Jay Trimble offers an overview of the resulting program, the open source Open MCT project, and shares lessons learned about how to introduce design thinking into an organization by mapping the existing mental models of the stakeholders to design thinking. Want to build multiple prototypes in an organization that builds software to requirements specifications? Start with the existing concept of risk reduction and map that to iterative design and prototypes. Want to conduct a Wizard of Oz walk-through? Start with the understood concept of simulations. In the process, design thinking becomes accepted in the organization. Jay also outlines examples of how to satisfy the competing requirements of keeping existing users with established work practices satisfied while building new capabilities. By developing in the open and building an active community of contributors and users, NASA hopes to bring a domain that has been hidden behind mission control consoles into the open.

Photo of Jay Trimble

Jay Trimble

NASA Ames Research Center

Jay Trimble is mission operations and ground data system manager for the Resource Prospector Lunar Rover Mission at NASA’s Ames Research Center. Previously, Jay founded and led the User-Centered Technology group, which played a significant role in bringing design thinking to mission software; was the lead operations director at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for Space Radar Lab 1, an international Earth remote sensing mission that flew on the Space Shuttle Endeavour; and was a science operations support team member for the Voyager encounter with Neptune. He was also a mission controller for space shuttle payloads at Johnson Space Center.

Jay Trimble on the O'Reilly Design Podcast