Living Space

BBC Future

At a glance

The awe-inspiring story of the International Space Station. This interactive visualization became part of a huge BBC series called ‘Homo Spaciens: Our new life off Earth’, about the next stage in space exploration.

Image of the final screen of "Living Space"

Celestial bodies

Our international home in the stars, the International Space Station (ISS) is made up of 15 human-habitable modules.

It’s about the size of a football field.

Close up of the International Space Station illustration
Close up of the International Space Station illustration Close up of the International Space Station illustration

Sizing it up

We started by looking at how to recreate this giant structure on the small screen.

How could we make it immediately recognisable? Would we need to show every nut and bolt? How could we get across its sheer size?

Image showing four stages of the illustration development

Galactic modules

The answer, surprisingly, was to go lo-fi. After trying 3D modelling and various complex illustration styles, we settled on a low poly style of illustration.

We set the modules on a starlit background to put ISS firmly in its celestial place.

There images of "Living Space" on mobile

Tight space

Navigation was one of the biggest challenges of this interactive. We wanted to pack in a great deal of information and, as the piece needed to be responsive, we refined the layout and UX for use across devices.

Users could explore by using the timeline or by using the up and down cursors. Pop-up hovers on the page revealed key information such as the astronaut’s names, the location of the module and data such as its weight in buses.

Image of six "Living Space" illustrations

Space oddities

We added animated editorial touches as a reminder that there are people living and working some 258 miles above our heads.

Little surprises included the first pizza delivery to Quest in 2001, Buzz Lightyear flying around Kibo Jem-PM in 2008 and Barack Obama’s Twitter question to the Tranquility crew in 2015.


Thank you for the music

One of our favourite additions was the crew’s wake-up music.

Every bit as diverse as the crews manning the modules, the musical choices varied from Bob Marley’s ‘No Woman No Cry’ and ‘Get Ready’ by The Temptations, to the Wallace and Gromit theme tune.

It would’ve been easy to completely focus on, say, the history and technical stories. But we always like to bring out the surprising, lesser-known stories too.

Image of the Space Jam screen from "Living Space"
Image of four astronaut badges from 'Living Space'

We have lift off!

The interactive launched in time to celebrate British astronaut Tim Peake’s blast-off on his Principia space expedition on 15 December 2015.