Changes Are Coming to NASA TV on the Web

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We’ve been streaming NASA TV on the web in earnest since 2004, when the Mars Exploration Rovers landed. Then 50,000 people watched our mission coverage on RealMedia, in windows probably not much bigger than today’s smartphone screen. Seven years later, more than 560,000 people watched the launch of the last space shuttle mission, many of them on an HD feed in Adobe Flash that filled a 22-inch monitor quite respectably. Others watched on their phones and tablets. Over the course of the mission, all that video meant that in two weeks we shipped almost as much data (1.2 petabytes, or more than 1.2 billion megabytes) than we did in all 2010.

And, unfortunately, we can’t afford to keep that up. Before adding HD and iOS streaming, we were streaming about 50 TB a month. Now we’re averaging five times that. This doesn’t fit well under a firm fixed-price contract. So while we’ve been able to find some additional funds, we’re also going to have to reduce our usage somewhat. Specifically, we’re going to:

  • Continue streaming the NASA TV public channel in HD at its current top resolution
  • Continue streaming to iOS devices at the current top resolution
  • Shift the ISS video stream to Ustream. (The mission audio stream, and the NASA TV media and educational channels, may also switch to Ustream.)
  • Discontinue streaming in RTSP format.

That last will affect users of older Android phones, those operating on OS 2.1 or earlier. Unfortunately, the cost of the RTSP stream was quite high (higher even that the main HD feed of NASA TV) and the audience was never very big, fewer than 800 during peaks that saw hundreds of thousands of users on other formats. So it simply didn’t make sense to keep doing it that way. While we hate to shut down any capability, we do have to manage the taxpayers’ money smartly.

You’ll see these changes take affect late next week. We’re sorry for any inconvenience.

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.

Why Do You Have to Type out ‘www’ to Get to our Website?

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Itseems really simple – just three letters. But they seem to annoy some of ourusers, who have let us know: “Why do I have to type www.nasa.gov and not just nasa.gov? Don’t you people even know the basics of running aweb site?”

 

Theanswer goes back to the early 1990s, when the Internet existed – but the WorldWide Web did not. NASA was on the Net very early in its history, and thenasa.gov Domain Name Servers (DNS) – the Internet’s version of a phone book(OK, online directory) – handled bulletin board systems, Gopher and more. Whenthe World Wide Web came along,  www.nasa.gov becamethe agency’s primary home online.

 

Todaythe World Wide Web is still one of the many, many networked services NASAprovides, all based on the nasa.gov domain. But along the way the web became thepublic’s most widely used aspect of the Internet, so much that the “www”became almost implicit. It started to disappear from the URLs of popularwebsites. NASA never made that switch, and our domain servers still do notforward users looking for nasa.gov to www.nasa.gov. (Though many web browsers now do that automatically once you’ve visited asite.)

 

Settingup our infrastructure to do that is technically straightforward: we need to addmore servers to handle a lot of additional traffic on the front end, beforepeople get to content. There are both implementation and ongoing operationalcosts to doing so, and that’s where the decision point is. Is this the best useof NASA’s resources?

 

Weare in the age of zero-sum budgets: when we spend money in one area, we don’tspend it on another. In the last year we’ve been improving our on-demand video capability,optimizing our mobile site and expanding the reach of our live video viaUstream and smartphones. All of those things are increasing the reach of www.nasa.gov, probably more than the DNS fixwould.

 

Still,we’ve got the plans and are evaluating them and the opportunity costs ofimplementing. We’ll keep you apprised.

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.

    A Webby three-peat! Thank you!

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    The 2011 Webby Awards are out, and one more time you have named us your favorite government site. The whole NASA.gov web team says thank you. The editors, videographers, multimedia developers and infrastructure managers all do their best to provide you with compelling content that brings you back time and again. This makes three awards in a row for NASA.gov, and four overall. Again, thank you.

    Our colleagues at JPL were honored by the Webby judges, who chose NASA’s Global Climate Change site as the best science site. Another JPL site, Solar System Exploration, was nominated in the government category.

    Over the past year, we’ve been working on both infrastructure and content to try to keep our momentum going. We’ve got multimedia pieces on the 30th anniversary of the first space shuttle launch and the 50th anniversary of the first U.S. space flight. We’ve streamlined our video presentation into one player and created an optimized version of the site for mobile devices. Developers around NASA have been releasing apps for iPhones, iPads and Android devices. (We’re still working on our TV streaming for the latter. The different flavors of Android make it less straightforward than streaming to iOS devices. But we hope to have it running for the next launch.)

    This summer we’ll be covering the end of the shuttle program, as well as transitioning to a new web-services contract and probably some new tools. But after that’s done, it will be time to start thinking about what the next version of NASA.gov looks like. As always, we appreciate your feedback. And thanks for your support over the years.

    These are the Droids You've Been Looking For

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    Short blog entry today, just letting you know that you can watch the April 29 launch of STS-134 on your Android device. Go to mobile.nasa.gov and select the “Watch NASA TV Live” link at the top. Be forewarned: it’s a beta, and we may reach a capacity limit. Also, because there are so many different devices using Android, some of them using different flavors of the OS, it’s possible the feed won’t work on some devices. We’ve tested them on as many as we can, but it’s impossible to be exhaustive. If you can’t get the feed, please let us know what device you’re using and, if you can, the version of Android and the media player.

    Certainly has been an interesting few days for live video around here. Last week Yahoo, which has provided WindowsMedia streams of NASA TV since 2005, told us they wouldn’t be able to support the launch as they were reserving all their capacity for the royal wedding earlier in the day. They’re apparently expecting quite a bit of on-demand traffic for replays. Fortunately, we were able to work with Ustream to beef up our connections there.

    There’s still a bit of a scramble since our primary feed comes out of the Marshall Space Flight Center, which was severely affected along with the rest of northern Alabama by Wednesday’s severe storms. As far as we know here in D.C., our people are fine, which is good. But our thoughts are with everybody there and across the south who has been touched by the storms.

    As always, let us know how we’re doing, whether it’s with the Android stream or any other aspect of the site.

    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

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