Android Goes Orbital With NASA’s ISSLive


NASA has made great efforts to get the public interested in their various projects and avenues of research using tools such as social media networks and their suite of mobile applications. Unfortunately, those applications have almost exclusively been iPhone exclusive. Of the over 20 mobile applications NASA has released, only a scant have made it over to everyone’s favorite open source mobile operating system.

Luckily, the latest of those three, “ISSLive“, is an excellent sign of things to come for NASA’s support of Android. It’s certainly not perfect, but it does show that NASA is finally putting some effort into non-iPhone software.

ISSLive is designed as tool to raise public awareness of research being done on the International Space Station (ISS). While most people are probably aware that spacefaring countries of the world designed and built the ISS, they likely don’t know its purpose or what astronauts do aboard it on a day to day basis. ISSLive aims to answer those questions by not only showing how the ISS was built by the various countries of the world, but what’s happening aboard it 24/7.

ISS Assembly

The first function of the ISSLive application is a 3D diagram of the ISS which users can spin around and examine in great detail. The user is able to selectively view which parts of the station were provided by which countries, switch to an “exploded” view, and even get the names of individual components.

3D Space Station Assembly Diagram

Visit ISS

The ISSLive application also offers an “up close” view of the ISS while it’s in orbit, using live position and speed information. In this mode, the user is able to see an impressively detailed 3D model of the ISS floating in space, over an accurate globe. In this mode you can not only see the ISS’s location relative to the Earth, but also the position of the sun. The keen eyed observer can even watch the solar panels on the model ISS rotate to follow the sun.

Space Station in orbit over the Sea of Japan

Visit The Mission Control Center

Easily the most impressive function of the ISSLive app, at least for the space buff, is the ability to wander around a 3D representation of the real Space Station Mission Control located at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Users are able to move through Mission Control using an on screen dual stick setup, similar to what is used in popular first-person games. Mission Control is impressively detailed, down to pictures hanging on the wall and cups of coffee on the tables.

Space Station Mission Control

While taking this virtual “tour” of Mission Control is interesting enough in it’s own right, the best part of this mode is that all of the computer consoles in the room are actually interactive objects. Walking up to a computer and tapping on it bring’s up that system’s displays, feed with live data from the ISS itself. By examining the different consoles in Mission Control, you can see an absolutely astounding amount of data from the Space Station, all in real-time.

Viewing live information about Space Station's solar panels
Viewing live information about Space Station's life support systems

Houston, We Have Some Problems

While ISSLive is a very impressive piece of software, it’s not without fault. Loading data from the Space Station can take a very long time, and often times out. When this happens, the app usually freezes up and needs to be manually closed. In addition, while the graphics are impressive, it doesn’t seem that much optimization was done in how they are rendered. The Space Station redraws as if in a flip book when viewing the “Visit ISS” mode on the Galaxy Nexus, which makes us wonder how the app must perform on older devices.

Though the worst part of ISSLive must be it’s frustratingly poor user interface. The buttons and text in many parts of the application are absurdly small, and it’s exceptionally difficult to hit buttons which are located on the sides of the screen (which happens to be where the majority are located). Selecting which countries will be displayed in “ISS Assembly” is so incredibly hard it’s tough to imagine this application was even fully tested before being pushed out onto the Play Store.

That said, ISSLive is still in it’s very early stages. Hopefully future updates to the application will improve these nagging issues and help convey the wonders and importance of manned space flight to Android users worldwide.


About Tom Nardi

Tom is a Network Engineer with focus on GNU/Linux and open source software. He is a frequent submitter to "2600", and maintains a personal site of his projects and areas of research at: .