NASA launches online historical image gallery

New portal stores more than 140,000 high-res NASA photographs, audio and film clips.

NASA last week launched a new interactive Web site, jointly developed with the non-profit Internet Archive, which initially combines some 21 separately stored and managed NASA imagery collections into a single online resource featuring enhanced search, visual and metadata capabilities.

The new portal, located here, stores more than 140,000 digitized high-resolution NASA photographs, audio and film clips. The launch of the site marks the end of the first phase of a five-year joint NASA-Internet Archive effort to ultimately make millions of NASA's historic image collection accessible online to the public and to researchers, noted Debbie Rivera, manager of strategic alliance at NASA.

The first content available on NASA's imagery Web site includes photos and video of the early Apollo moon missions, views of the solar system from the Hubble Space Telescope and photos and videos showing the evolution of spacecraft and in-flight designs.

The five-year joint development agreement signed in 2007 will also lead to the embedding of Web 2.0 tools into the site. For example, engineers are developing Wikis and blogs for users to share content. The team has already started adding metatags to improve search results, Rivera said. "There's a lot more to come," she added. "This is only the beginning."

In about a year, the partnership will tackle the enormous task of on-site digitizing of still images, films, film negatives and audio content currently stored on analog media devices across NASA field centers, Rivera said. Speed is essential, she noted, as some of NASA's older analog recordings and film footage of events as far back as 1915 are "disintegrating. This is one of the largest aspects of this partnership," she admitted.

Internet Archive, founded in 1996 to create an Internet-based library, will manage and host NASA's new interactive image gallery on the cluster of 2,000 Linux servers at its San Francisco headquarters, said John Hornstein, director of the NASA images project for the group. The non-profit currently runs 2 petabytes of storage, Hornstein said.

Hornstein acknowledged some hiccups following the launch of the site last week when servers crashed causing intermittently sluggish response times. In addition, software around the zoom-in functionality of thumbnail images on the NASA web site is still being de-bugged. He downplayed any lingering effects, however. "We're just finding where the issues are and we don't see any of this as an ongoing problem," remarked Hornstein.

Internet Archive is using software donated by Luna Imaging Inc. to help develop and support the NASA images project.

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