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