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Keeping up with NASA online

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on March 26, 2004
(Issue 2213, The Neighborhood Advantage)

Few organizations have taken to the World Wide Web as enthusiastically, as wholly, as NASA.

And the public has taken to few Web sites as that run by NASA, particularly now with the two rovers roaming around the surface of Mars.

The cynics among us will respond that this is simply evidence of a savvy marketing staff at a government agency that soaks up tons of tax dollars.


But compared to other government programs, NASA is a pygmy. Would that the rest of the bloated government agencies were as user-friendly as NASA. Or at least had Web sites as informative and easy to navigate.

Getting started

NASA's main Web presence is at From here, you can explore the site by two menus – one based on target audience, the other by content.

The target audience menu is divided into Kids, Students, Educators and Media – but all in a very open and nondiscriminatory way as anyone can access any of these sections! So you can view the same information available to reporters from the New York Times or CNN.

And for the eternally curious, the educators section is an unbelievably deep mine of space-related information. I've spent hours clicking around in here and have barely scratched the surface of what's available. Lesson plans, multimedia presentations, image archives – you can easily lose a day or two in here.

The content menu offers choices like Missions, Multimedia, News, Popular Topis and About NASA.

Tons of goodies

For space junkies, the Multimedia section is the place to be. Each day, NASA uploads the raw images from the Mars rovers – not the same resolutions as the scientists get, perhaps, but fairly good quality and very timely.

You can also pick up the live NASA audio and TV feeds. It's not 24/7, but there are regular programs – and you can check the schedule before watching them. Plus, you can view videos of old missions – several of the Apollo missions, for instance, have their lunar landing videos available for downloading in QuickTime format. It's pretty awesome stuff to watch again – will give you goosebumps if you're old enough to remember the original landings.

But it's the Mars missions that have our attention now. To get more information on the Mars rovers immediately, you can go to This sub-site is laid out similarly to the main NASA site, and is just as feature- and content-rich.

A NASA portal

If you're going to be a regular visitor, and want to be able to quickly find the latest updates without digging through all the other stuff you've already seen, you can set up an account and have your own NASA portal –

From here, you can customize your own NASA home page – say you only want planetary exploration info, or maybe you're really into robotics. There are about a dozen sections you can add or subtract in creating your portal.

Food for cynics

Because NASA is a government agency, it reports to us, the people. Even people who don't like NASA.

Creating more than a little irony, then, NASA has provided lots of content for even its harshest critics.

Chief among this content is NASA's annual budget. Right there for you to download and look over. Plus speeches, future plans, just about everything NASA is up to - plenty of food for both activist and conspiracist.

A perfect site?

Okay, the perfect Web site has yet to be built. But the NASA site is an example of a site done up very well indeed. From its navigation menus and well-written text to its Flash multimedia presentations, the NASA site shows how to do a Web site the correct way.

The fact that its content is so darn cool is just gravy.