Astronaut Ethnography


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ESA/A. Gerst

Our journeys off-world have taught us just as much about humanity as the harsh environment of space. For the past 20 years, we have had a continuous presence aboard the International Space Station, which has expanded our technical, biological, and operational knowledge of living and working in microgravity. We have also developed a wealth of more personal insights about space from the lived experiences of the astronauts and cosmonauts who have called the ISS home.

The Astronaut Ethnography Project captures and distills experiences from spacefaring humans in order to inspire future engineering, policy, and design. Through interviews with astronauts, cosmonauts, and spaceflight participants—as well as analysis of primary source accounts, video, and photographic documentation of space environments—this research endeavor aims to present embodied, human-centered insights about how humans work, play, and reflect on Earth from space. 

To make sure this knowledge isn't limited to a select few individuals, we've open sourced our research as part of, an online resource we've developed to share what we've learned. As the nature of our relationship with Earth's orbit changes to include more diverse crews and missions, we have much to learn from how today’s spacefarers adapt to challenges when imaging the future of life in space.

Research Themes

Designing for Life in Microgravity

The microgravity environment presents unique challenges for designers, engineers, and the individuals who live in space. The majority of people who design for life off-planet have not been to space themselves, and so lack a type of experiential intuition that is developed through living in microgravity. Without that lived experience, designers may also be unfamiliar with the day-to-day implications of environmental stressors that astronauts contend with. 

Astronaut-Centered Design

Due to the hazards involved, design for human habitation in space addresses both mission-related safety and efficiency with more nuanced human-centric considerations. The increased access to and democratization of space changes the ways we approach designing for human life in space. This research effort documents how human insights about life in microgravity can be effectively captured and incorporated into current and future designs for space, through a qualitative study of astronaut experiences. 

Comfort and Care

Leveraging ethnographic and design research methodologies to synthesize insights collected from a cohort of nine current and former astronauts, our early research has revealed a phenomenon: Astronauts improvise comfort and care when their needs are not addressed by the mission and the design of the station environment.

The nature of human spaceflight is changing rapidly. As such, we are continuing our astronaut interviews to develop design insights and identifying opportunities for near- and long-term interventions in habitation and experience design for space.


S. Sharma, N. Klop-Packel, A. Ekblaw, “The Astronaut Ethnography Web Project: Insights from First-Person Accounts of Space.” AC-22,E1,9,19,x68611, 73rd International Astronautical Congress (IAC), Paris, France, 18-22 September 2022. Available at:

S. Sharma, S. Fish, A. Ekblaw, “Astronaut-in-the-Loop: An Iterative Design Research Framework for Space Environments.” 50th International Conference on Environmental Systems, July 2021. Available at:

S. Sharma, S. Fish, A. Ekblaw, “Astronaut Ethnography: A Design Research Approach to Microgravity.” IAC-20,E5,5,7,x60878, 71st International Astronautical Congress, 12 – 14 October, 2020. Available: