Have you ever looked up at night and wondered about the mysteries of space? Or marveled at the expansiveness of our galaxy? You can easily explore all this and more at the NASA Image and Video Library. For NASA, providing the public with such easy access to the wonders of space has been a journey all its own.
NASA began providing online access to photos, video, and audio in the early 2000’s, when media capture began to shift from analog and film to digital. Before long, each of NASA’s 10 field centers was making its imagery available online, including digitized versions of some older assets.
There in was the challenge: With media in so many different places, you needed institutional knowledge of NASA to know where to look. If you wanted a video of the space shuttle launch, you had to go to the Kennedy Space Center website. If you wanted pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope, you went to the Goddard Space Flight Center website. With 10 different centers and dozens of distributed image collections, it took a lot of digging around to find what you wanted.
Early efforts to provide a one-stop shop consisted of essentially “scraping” content from the different sites, bringing it together in one place, and layering a search engine on top. In large part, those initial efforts were unsuccessful because each center categorized its imagery in different ways. As a result, NASA often had five to six copies of the same image, each described in different ways, which made searches difficult and delivered a poor user experience.
In 2011, NASA decided that the best approach to address this issue was to start over. By late 2014, all the necessary pieces for a second attempt were in place:
- The Imagery Experts Program had developed and published a common metadata standard, which all NASA’s centers had adopted.
- The Web Enterprise Service Technologies (WESTPrime) service contract, one of five agency-wide service contracts under NASA’s Enterprise Services program, provided a delivery vehicle for building and managing the new site.
- The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP), which provides a standardized approach to security assessment, authorization, and continuous monitoring for cloud products and services.
NASA wanted to build their new solution in the cloud for two reasons. Like with many government agencies, NASA was trying to get away from buying hardware and building data centers, which are expensive to build and manage. The cloud also provided the ability to scale with ease, as needed, paying for only the capacity NASA use instead of having to make a large up-front investment.
Why Amazon Web Services? Amazon was the largest cloud services provider, had a strong government cloud presence, and offered the most suitable cloud in terms of elasticity. NASA formally launched its Image and Video Library in March 2017.
The NASA Image and Video Library is a cloud-native solution, with the front-end web app separated from the backend API. It runs as immutable infrastructure in a fully automated environment, with all infrastructure defined in code to support continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD).
In building the solution, they took advantage of the following Amazon Web Services:
• Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), which provides secure, resizable compute capacity in the cloud. This enables NASA to scale up under load and scale down during periods of inactivity to save money, and pay for only what it uses.
• Elastic Load Balancing (ELB), which is used to distribute incoming traffic across multiple Amazon EC2 instances, as required to achieve redundancy and fault-tolerance.
• Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), which supports object storage for incoming (uploaded) media, metadata, and published assets.
• Amazon Simple Queue Service(SQS), which is used to decouple incoming jobs from pipeline processes.
• Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS), which is used for automatic synchronization and failover.
• Amazon DynamoDB, a fast and flexible NoSQL database service, which is used to track incoming jobs, published assets, and users.
• Amazon Elastic Transcoder, which is used to transcode audio and video to various resolutions.
• Amazon CloudSearch, which is used to support searching by free text or fields.
• Amazon Simple Notification Service (SNS), which is used to trigger the processing pipeline when new content is uploaded.
• Amazon CloudFormation, which enables automated creation, updating, and destruction of AWS resources. InfoZen also used the Troposphere library, which enables the creation of objects via AWS CloudFormation using Python instead of hand-coded JSON — each object representing one AWS resource such as an instance, an Elastic IP (EIP) address, or a security group.
- Amazon CloudWatch, which provides a monitoring service for AWS cloud resources and the applications running on AWS.
Through its use of AWS, with support from InfoZen, NASA is making its vast wealth of pictures, videos, and audio files — previously in some 60 “collections” across NASA’s 10 centers — easily discoverable in one centralized location, delivering these benefits:
- Easy Access to the Wonders of Space.
- Built-in Scalability
- Good Use of Taxpayer Dollars
Thanks for reading :)