Site Built in a Fort Turns Space Transcripts into Gripping Stories

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What could possibly be cooler than reams of original radio transcripts chronicling spaceflight landmarks like the first human in space and the near-fatal Apollo 13 mission, the option to search it all at will, and everything wrapped in a gorgeous, elegant, easy-to-use web package?

I’ll tell you what: all of that, plus knowledge the site, dubbed Spacelog, was designed by bunch of guys holed up in a fort. No, I don’t mean some chairs and blankets or a half-crazed militia trussing up a home with barbed wire, but an honest-to-goodness fort. Fort Clonque, to be precise, on the island of Alderney off the coast of France.

For six days we lived and worked together, spending most of our time in two communal rooms with a coal fire going most of the time. We cooked, ate and occasionally got covered in soot, and we designed and implemented the first version of Spacelog, including our first two missions: Mercury-Atlas 6 and Apollo 13.

The site itself is a study in style and economy. Tap a mission and you’ll find yourself on a simple space-photo-adorned page that breaks the mission into boxed-out phases. Tap each phase and you’re treated to a Twitter-like interface that ties each person’s radio dispatch to its place on the t-minus/plus clock in bright blue numerals. The dispatches are broken apart with extra spacing, making for clear, surprisingly brisk reading. Click any line and you’ll see precisely how long ago it was spoken, conjure a link-to option, and a button to send it as a tweet. To the right, “key moments” are displayed with red callouts, and a pop-up map can be summoned indicating the location of the spacecraft during the relevant mission phase.

Read around and you’ll even find humorous bits, like Apollo 13 astronaut Joe Kerwin’s “13, Houston… We’ve got a groovy TV picture,” shortly after turning up the video feed three hours into launch.

So far Spacelog’s tackled six missions: Vostok 1, Mercury 3, Mercury 6, Gemini 3, Apollo 11, and Apollo 13. But with over 200 human spaceflight missions on the books, look for more first-rate Spacelog treatments to follow.