Author Archives: jtownsend

NASA TV: Live in the Palm of your Hand

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Over the last few weeks, we’ve set up and begun doing a beta test broadcast of NASA TV onto your Apple iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. We tweeted it out early yesterday to our Twitter followers before the landing of the Space Shuttle Atlantis once we were sure it was ready to have more of a spotlight shone on it. It’s also been linked on the NASA TV web page in the left column for the last couple of weeks since we set up the stream.

NASA TV on the iPhone
Watch the Stream Now

This specially formatted HTML5, H.264 stream was set up to test out new streaming technologies within the NASA network infrastructure and to demonstrate the technology as practical given the resources available for NASA.gov. During the beta period, we’re trying to identify issues and concerns with the reliability and delivery of the stream to you, our users. We’re also trying to gauge the interest of our online audience in having NASA TV available for streaming on the iPhone and other mobile devices.

For now, this is just the first step. If everything goes well during the beta test period, we’ll evaluate our next steps taking into account the availability of our limited resources. For the immediate future, this is an open ended beta test period. We are listening for feedback on the quality, reliability, and availability of the NASA TV stream. We’re also listening for ideas of what you think the next steps should be. Some of the ideas we’ve most often heard are integration of NASA TV into the NASA iPhone App, mobile apps for other devices such as Android and Blackberry, and streaming NASA TV onto other devices. We’ve purchased the hardware that will allow us to do some of these ideas and expect to begin more streaming this summer.

As always, you can e-mail the NASA.gov Web Team at webcomments@hq.nasa.gov or drop us a line in the comments. We also monitor tweets sent to @NASA. We’ll try to respond as time allows, but know that we read every comment, e-mail, and tweet sent our way.

Preparing for STS-135

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Homepage Screenshot

As we prepare for the final space shuttle mission, NASA.gov is planning special coverage for the end of this era. Today, the first element of our special coverage rolls out onto the homepage in the form of a promotional graphic and link to get the latest information about the STS-135 mission and the end of the Space Shuttle Era. Keep checking back as we rollout additional new features and special coverage in the coming days and weeks ahead.

P.S. – Have you read some of the wonderful stories in the Space Shuttle Era section detailing every part of over 30 years of the Space Shuttle Program? If not, you really should. It’ll give you a great many perspectives on the entire monumental program.

World IPv6 Day

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On June 8, NASA joins organizations from across the globe to test out the next generation of the Internet, called Internet Protocol version six or IPv6. As more devices and people come online, the older Internet Protocol version four (IPv4) addresses — those sets of numbers that uniquely identify every device on the Internet — are rapidly running out, making a new series of addresses and protocols necessary. That’s where IPv6 comes in since it uses longer strings of numbers and letters to create new addresses.

Upgrading to IPv6 means we can have far more addresses for the continued growth of the Internet. Nearly 20 years ago, a similar upgrade happened to the telephone system in North America when ten-digit dialing became the norm, which greatly expanded the availability of telephone numbers. This Internet upgrade also presents challenges as entire networks from industry, government and universities must be overhauled to simultaneously support both IPv4 and IPv6 — hence the need for a test day.

Other organizations such as Google, Facebook and Yahoo will be among those participating in World IPv6 Day on June 8 for a 24-hour ‘test flight’ of the new IPv6 running from midnight UTC to midnight UTC a day later. The organizations participating in World IPv6 Day hope that the test will provide the motivation for Internet service providers, hardware makers, operating system vendors and other Web companies to prepare their services for IPv6 and to ensure a successful transition as the old IPv4 addresses run out.

During World IPv6 Day, the following NASA websites will be reachable via IPv6 for 24 hours:

Let us know if you are testing out the IPv6 sites! For more information on World IPv6 Day, please see www.worldipv6day.org.

Rolling Out New Buttons and Improved Streams

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Screengrab of the new buttonsNotice something different on the homepage? In a subtle switch, late yesterday we changed three of the topical buttons on the right side of the homepage to reflect NASA’s new path and new programs. As we said before, websites are organic creatures — growing, shrinking and constantly changing as the organizations they represent are themselves changing. NASA is moving forward on a new path, investing in the commercial space industry for access to low earth orbit, while developing a heavy-lift rocket and crew capsule to carry astronauts beyond Earth’s orbit.

As a result, we added Commercial Space and Beyond Earth buttons to the homepage to reflect this transition of direction for the agency. We removed the Moon & Mars buttons as the content previously there was covered under these two new buttons or the existing Solar System button. We also combined NASA History and People into one button since there was often a lot of overlap between those two topical areas. Over the last two blog posts, we asked for feedback about the icon and label for what became the Beyond Earth button. We really appreciate all the feedback we received. It was truly helpful to hone our concepts down to the finished product.

Following up on another blog post from the end of April, we also have some good news to report. After launching NASA TV streaming to Android-based smartphones, we realized we had a compatibility issue with certain versions of the Android system. This produced a scrambled picture for the affected users and was widely reported in the comments. We worked for a few weeks on a fix and soft-launched a fix for the scrambled picture prior to the current Space Shuttle mission.

While this may not solve our stream compatibility issue for every type of Android-based devices, we have been monitoring the blog comments, our hq-webcomments@nasa.gov e-mail account and feedback on NASA’s Twitter and Facebook. We think at this point the major scrambled picture issue has been resolved. We’ll continue to monitor it and troubleshoot compatibility issues as they arise. We hope it’s working significantly better for everyone out there than it was when we first loft-launch Android streaming of NASA TV. Check it out today by visiting http://mobile.nasa.gov on your Android smartphone and selecting the ‘Watch NASA TV Live’ link at the top of the page.

Continuing to Refine our Future Homepage Buttons

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In our last post, we talked about some of the concepts we’ve been working on for a new button linking to information about NASA’s new programs on the NASA homepage. We’ve reviewed a lot of the initial feedback and have narrowed down the concepts to one from the earlier selection, and a new one based upon feedback left by a few folks. We also have narrowed down the labels to a couple of choices using the same feedback.Check out our refined concepts:

Refined Icon Concepts
Icon Concepts

Refined Label Concepts
Beyond Earth
Human Exploration

What do you think? Did we miss the boat on these narrowed-down choicesor are we still headed in the right direction? Do you prefer one overthe other? Let us know. Leave us a comment on this blog post or e-mail us at hq-webcomments@nasa.gov.We thank you for this valuable feedback. It’s been extremely helpfulfor the web team as we move forward with NASA’s new programs.

We're Looking for Ideas of the Future

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Websites are often organic creatures — growing, shrinking and constantly changing as the organizations they represent are themselves changing. NASA is moving forward on a new path, investing in the commercial space industry for access to low earth orbit, while developing a heavy-lift rocket and crew capsule to carry astronauts beyond Earth’s orbit.

As we transition from some mostly-discontinued programs to new programs, one of the most prominent changes will be the button links at the top right of www.nasa.gov. These buttons are our way of getting users quickly to the latest news and features in our key topic areas.

We’re searching for the best way to represent the agency’s future plans for human space exploration, and we’d like your feedback. Below are four icon concepts, along with several labels. Which do you think captures the spirit of the forthcoming new missions and projects? Are there other options for icons and labels we haven’t thought of? Do you like elements of one but not another?

Icon Concepts

4 Icon Concepts

Label Concepts

Beyond Earth
Exploration
Our Future
Into the Future
Next Steps
Our Future in Space
Human Exploration
To the Future

    Let us know. Leave us a comment here on this blog or e-mail us at hq-webcomments@nasa.gov. Reflecting these sorts of changes online can be challenging. We’re often constrained for physical space in the templates and are usually having to create artwork to represent concepts that are only in the earliest of planning stages. This feedback will be incorporated into our transition plans totransition to create sections on the site for these new programs. 

    And by the way … this is not the forum for a debate on which direction NASA should be taking. Please keep your comments focused on the icons and labels themselves. This way you are helping us to make the site work better for you.

    Shifting Trends

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    Launch of STS-133 Space Shuttle DiscoveryLast week, we launched our first shuttle mission in nine months and first of the remaining three space shuttle missions. Given the lull in shuttle missions and the ramp-up to the end of the space shuttle era, we weren’t shocked to see an increase in traffic on the website. The places we received traffic, however, were enlightening and reflect growing trends we’re seeing elsewhere. This was our fourth largest online video event to date on NASA.gov with over 284,822 unique streams of NASA TV being watched during launch with an average of 42,189 website users per second.

    Demand for mobile coverage of NASA is growing at an incredible pace. Over 30,000 people watched the launch on their iOS devices. During the docking of Discovery to the International Space Station, over 20,000 of you were watching on a mobile device. This is incredible growth given that this time last year, we were not even running a beta test of mobile streaming. While we’re elated that this is extremely popular, we still have work to do. We have seen incredible growth in the number of people viewing the stream to the point that it has tested some of our hardware to their limits and we are now looking to expand the capacity of the mobile streams.

    > Watch NASA TV on your iOS Device

    We are also working to add Android-compatible streaming of NASA TV. While the iOS stream was fairly straight forward with a standard MP4 encoded stream, Android presents a more complex array of formats and software versions to grapple with. We’re working with our vendors and content hosts to sort this out as soon as possible so that NASA TV will be available to as many of Android users as possible. We hope to have an Android-compatible stream within the coming weeks.

    Additionally, NASA TV is broadcasting in HD during this STS-133 Shuttle Mission via UStream. This is a new way to see NASA TV in high definition online. We’re still evaluating this stream given our operational requirements. We hope to continue this after the mission, tweaking it to improve the performance along the way.

    > Watch NASA TV in High Definition

    As we work towards the successful completion of the Space Shuttle Program, there is more interest in the space shuttle than we’ve seen in a while. Some wonderful writers and program officials throughout the agency have helped to begin a compilation of the entire space shuttle era from every angle. This retrospective will only grow with new content being added all the way until the end of the last mission. It’s worth reading these wonderful stories about the nuts and bolts of the program to really see the program from all perspectives.

    > Take an in-depth look at the Space Shuttle Era

    Now Appearing on the Website

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    You’ve seen the designs. You’ve witnessed us asking for feedback on them. Now, we’ve unveiled the new navigation menus on NASA.gov. Visit the site to check them out.

    Screenshot of the new navigation

    These new navigation menus have been several months in the making. They started as stick-figure-like wireframe documents, and then became graphics. We them modified and played with different colors, textures, patterns, styles and other design elements. We settled on the designs we posted to this blog several weeks ago and we solicited and received lots of feedback. Our goal for these new menus was to make readily apparent popular, as well as hard-to-find content. The new menus highlight this content and other information, resulting in fewer clicks to find the links that are the most sought after. This is coupled with the standard sub-categories for each section of the site, featured links or other popular content.

    Since you last saw the menus, we have worked to transform the designs into code and then tested those newly coded menus on our staging environment. This process took user feedback into consideration, which resulted in the tweaking of the menus to include changing a few of the labels and refining some of the content showcased by those menus. We then integrated our existing analytics into the menus to automatically populate certain pieces of the menus. Finally, we tested the functionality of the new menus and worked to resolve any conflicts that may have arisen.

    At long last, we’re happy to officially roll-out this project.

    Now we are moving on to other development projects, including getting embedded videos to play on tablet devices. We’re also working on other projects, and as always, we look forward to receiving your feedback. The tweets to @NASA, the e-mails to webcomments@hq.nasa.gov and the comments on our blog posts help us improve the site.

    NASA's First Android App

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    You’ve probably heard all the hype about Tang being invented as a drink for the astronauts. Well, we hate to say this — but that’s not true. But lots of other amazing technologies have been invented by NASA or through NASA-funded research and now we’ve got an App for that.

    Screenshot from App showing a Map of Spinoffs  Screenshot from the App showing the timeline

    Since our creation in 1958, we’ve sought to solve the many challenges of space, aviation and exploration through innovation, invention and engineering solutions. We’ve met these challenges head-on by the hundreds, if not thousands. And now we’ve created a new way to explore each and every one of NASA’s Spinoffs — or innovations created for our nation’s space program now in use in your everyday lives — called the NASA Spinoff App for Android.

    The NASA Spinoff App highlights the direct impact NASA innovations have made on the everyday lives of citizens. Commercialization of NASA technology has contributed to products and services in the fields of health and medicine, transportation, public safety, consumer goods, environmental resources and computer technology.

    This is NASA’s first Android app and allows you to explore NASA technologies developed in your own backyard. The App contains a feed of NASA’s latest technology news, a searchable database of NASA-derived innovations, a map of spinoff locations, a historical timeline and a database of NASA’s available licensing opportunities to inspire the spinoffs of the future.

    Additional Android, iPhone, iPad and other Apps are in the works. We’ll continue to keep our list of Apps fully up to date.  But in the meantime, explore our newest NASA App and learn about how space technologies are impacting life right here on Earth.

    Thank You!

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    In many ways, last week was an experiment for us. Like most sites, we collect user feedback about our pages, the designs, the content and more. And we have always incorporated user testing into our design process. It’s really an integral part of the process. However, last week was the first time we officially collected feedback via social media.

    Traditionally, we have collected feedback on our site, using three methods:

    • User Satisfaction Surveys – Using ForeSee Results, which you may have noticed on any number of sites, we gather feedback about how satisfied you are and benchmark it against other sites, such as Google and Amazon, using the same basic survey. The survey also has questions specific to NASA.gov. We review the results monthly and pay especially close attention to individual comments.

    Foresee Customer satisfaction Survey

    • Analytics – NASA analyzes web statistics — metrics such as page views, time on site and referrals — to show us what is popular across our site. We use these stats to see what people are most interested in and how they’re finding it, and this helps us make editorial decisions about where and how to highlight content on the site. This also includes items like the ratings for popular content or the number of likes/tweets stories have received, which can help users make informed decisions about their next clicks.

    • User Testing – NASA.gov conducts usability testing on most major changes to the website. This allows NASA.gov’s team to watch how users accomplish certain tasks and use the site in general. Which buttons and links do folks click on to get to this or that? Do they scroll the page missing the item we’d like for them to locate? Analyzing user behavior during these sessions helps us to make our designs smarter and more in-line with user expectations.

    User Testing for NASA.gov User Testing for NASA.gov

    But last week, our blog post was an experiment at a fourth way: using Twitter and Facebook to drive visitors to the blog post and soliciting their feedback. Thanks to all of you who responded. We’ve had a wide range of comments that will help us refine our designs, and we plan to implement these navigation menus within the coming months. We’ll blog about it again once the changes are live.

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