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Website Review:

NASA Website

Reviewed By Erin M. Hartshorn
Copyright 2009 by Erin M. Hartshorn, All Rights Reserved


(http://www.nasa.gov)

If you're a science writer or a science-fiction writer who likes getting the rivets in the right spot, NASA's Website (http://www.nasa.gov) is a one-stop shop for all your space travel needs. It has everything from the composition of the various planets and moons (as well as whatever other physical constants you might desire) to a video walk-through of the international space station, as well as links to their own YouTube channel with all the footage you could desire of and from the space shuttle.

Start from its homepage: It has tabs across the top dedicated to different segments of the population, from the general public to teachers to kids to the media to elected officials to employees. If you look at the general public page, it has graphics on the right side of the page for the various areas of emphasis: shuttle and the space station, Moon and Mars, the solar system, aeronautics, history, and technology, to name a few. Daily headlines appear on the left (such as the fiftieth anniversary of the Mercury Seven), with images, TV & video, interactive pages, and a calendar below. There's a lot to choose from, but it's all organized clearly and simply, so you can find what you want to know.

Need some quick biographical facts to flesh out an article? Information on the astronauts, engineers, and NASA leadership (such as the Director of the Johnson Space Center) is all available on the NASA People page (http://www.nasa.gov/topics/people/index.html).

Or maybe you want to know what the hot topics are so you can pitch an appropriate article? There's a search cloud for "What are people interested in?" that includes tabs for today, the last 30 days, and the last 12 months. You can also sign up to receive NASA updates by email so you can be on top of what's happening without visiting the Website.

If you're interested in history, a rather neat overview can be found on "This Month in Exploration," covering 100 years of aeronautical advances, from airplane inventions to gravity probe launches. Need a quick little filler piece for "On This Day" or want to check out what was actually happening with space exploration during the time you've set a secret-history science-fiction piece? This is one place to look.  NASA History (http://www.nasa.gov/topics/history/index.html) is another. Currently featured on the History page: a cut-away image of the Project Mercury ballistic capsule, locating all major systems; a message from President Obama on NASA's Day of Remembrance; and the presentation of a moon rock to astronaut James Lovell.

For more in-depth history, there's the History Division's own site (http://history.nasa.gov) with a topical index including Aeronautics, Anniversaries, Biographies, Centers & Offices, Exploration, Human Spaceflight, Photo-Video, Reference, Satellites, Space Biology, Space Policy, and Space Science. Clearly, there's overlap here with what's available on the main NASA site, but if you want a concise history of animals in space (http://history.nasa.gov/animals.html), a set of timelines for NASA's work (http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/timeline.html), or a short list of the various lunar explorations with links (http://history.nasa.gov/tindex.html#11), this is going to help you find that information. You can even find PDFs of press kits (Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Apollo Soyuz Test Project), press releases, and mission transcripts (https://mira.hq.nasa.gov/history/).

In fact, history is only one of the subsections of NASA to merit its own separate site. Others include such things as astrobiology (http://astrobiology.arc.nasa.gov/), the Office of Biological and Physical Research (http://spaceresearch.nasa.gov/), Aeronautics Research (http://www.aerospace.nasa.gov/), and NASAJobs (http://nasajobs.nasa.gov/). The various NASA facilities do not have individual Websites but can be found on NASA's umbrella site -- the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (http://www.nasa.gov/centers/jpl/home/index.html), for example, or Goddard Space Flight Center (http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/home/index.html).

NASA information goes far beyond static pages and PDFs. NASA has blogs, podcasts (both audio and video), and RSS feeds for those who want up to the minute information. NASA is even on Twitter (http://twitter.com/NASA) -- and some of its probes have their own Twitter feeds (MarsPhoenix, Hubble, CassiniSaturn). Two YouTube channels are devoted to NASA information -- if you want to know how the space shuttle maneuvers when it's getting ready to dock with the space station, this is where to look: NASA TV (http://www.youtube.com/NASATelevision) and ReelNASA (http://www.youtube.com/reelnasa). In fact, that's just what I did last summer when working on a short story for the Heinlein Centennial Short Story Contest; I watched several videos about the docking process to make sure that the few details I actually included were accurate.

All offsite NASA presences are linked from the main site, making it easy to find whatever you're looking for, even elsewhere on the Internet. The podcasts and television are linked from the "informal learning" page (http://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/informal/index.html), which also features the Digital Learning Network (http://dln.nasa.gov/dln/), resources for museums and planetariums (http://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/informal/mus-planetariums-index.html) -- very useful for science writers -- and schedules of actual educational events (such as space camp or "100 Hours of Astronomy").

Want to make sure the exploration vehicle that you're designing would include functions useful on a new planet or moon? On the interactive features page (http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/mmgallery/index.html), check out the lunar electric rover (http://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/lerhigh/index.html), the Mars exploration rovers (http://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/lerhigh/index.html), or the Phoenix Mars lander (http://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/PML/). Need to design a spacesuit? See the clickable spacesuit page (http://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/spacesuits/home/clickable_suit.html). Or maybe you want to see how the space station is set up, what's connected where, and how the astronauts live aboard it (http://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/ISSRG/).

NASA research and science has far broader applications than flybys of Cassini and Pluto, or creating extra-efficient batteries so a rover can keep working long past its project dateline. They're looking at harnessing energy generated by the oceans' tides (http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/tideenergy.html). They use telemetry gathered by satellites (including "sea surface temperatures, precipitation, and vegetation cover") to track and predict disease outbreaks (http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/riftvalley_fever.html). They've even helped adapt space optics technology for vision screening (http://www.nasa.gov/topics/nasalife/photorefraction.html). Whether you need a short science news bite, or you want to consider how you might extrapolate science applications for your created world, check out NASA's technology page (http://www.nasa.gov/topics/technology/index.html).

If you're looking for classified information, you're not going to find it here; that's not what a public Website is for. If, however, you need to know about the people, places, and things involved in America's space program, the NASA Website is a good one-stop shopping trip. A word of caution: it really helps if you go in knowing what you're looking for. There is so much material that it would be easy to spend weeks doing nothing but hopping from one link to the next, gawking over all that's available. As much fun as that might be, it won't get any words written -- which is the point, right?

Links listed in this article:

http://www.nasa.gov

http://www.nasa.gov/topics/people/index.html

http://www.nasa.gov/topics/history/index.html

http://history.nasa.gov/animals.html

http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/timeline.html

http://history.nasa.gov/tindex.html#11

https://mira.hq.nasa.gov/history

http://astrobiology.arc.nasa.gov

http://spaceresearch.nasa.gov

http://www.aerospace.nasa.gov

http://nasajobs.nasa.gov

http://www.nasa.gov/centers/jpl/home/index.html

http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/home/index.html

http://twitter.com/NASA

http://www.youtube.com/NASATelevision

http://www.youtube.com/reelnasa

http://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/informal/index.html

http://dln.nasa.gov/dln

http://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/informal/mus-planetariums-index.html

http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/mmgallery/index.html

http://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/lerhigh/index.html

http://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/lerhigh/index.html

http://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/PML

http://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/spacesuits/home/clickable_suit.html

http://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/ISSRG

http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/tideenergy.html

http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/riftvalley_fever.html

http://www.nasa.gov/topics/nasalife/photorefraction.html

http://www.nasa.gov/topics/technology/index.html)

emhartshorn@yahoo.com