Last Thursday was a very busy day for those of us here at NASA.gov. It was a day of many firsts, as we worked hard on special coverage of President Obama’s visit to the Kennedy Space Center, where he spoke about the new course for NASA and the future of the U.S. in human spaceflight.
In a first for NASA.gov, we streamed live video coverage of the visit in high definition (HD). Web users increasingly expect to see HD video online, with sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo offering increasingly higher and higher quality video. Thursday was an important test of this capability for the team here and overall, it went really well.
In today’s online world, single-person teams armed with cell phones and social media accounts seem to accomplish this type of work routinely, and technology has made it much simpler. But most people in those situations don’t worry too much about technical risk. If the gear fails, it fails. At NASA.gov, we worry a lot about the risk. Regardless of technical difficulties, people still expect to see what they came to see. We tend to spend most of our time not worrying over how to make something happen, but how to keep things from going south once we’ve got it working.
That takes a lot of geographically dispersed people working closely together. We were getting our HD video from a team on the ground at the Kennedy Space Center who fed it to the encoding team at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. Their encoded web stream went to our commercial data centers in Texas and Virginia, then out to the globe via Akamai and Yahoo!. Only then did it get on to your computer.
Additionally, there was the NASA.gov Web and Multimedia Team, plus the NASA TV Master Controllers at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. who helped provide support and coordination of the video streams and coverage. Also involved were our colleagues at the White House’s operations. With coverage on streaming NASA TV, NASA.gov, internal NASA websites, and on White House Live, there was an incredible breadth of locations where viewers could watch this event online, including Yahoo!’s main web page for a while.
In addition to the HD streams, the space conference following the President’s speech was streamed in standard definition. This conference included several sessions, including four simultaneous breakout sessions that were webcast only. With the standard three channels of NASA TV streaming, plus the Space Station views stream, we were broadcasting eight unique feeds of video at one time, another first.
Beyond the streams, we provided a full-spectrum of coverage before, during and after the event. One hour into the event, multiple photos were online, and the arrival video was posted. We continued this level of coverage throughout the remainder of the conference and well into the evening as more and more materials became available.
Additionally, all of these materials were also posted in multiple locations across cyberspace. This included photos going into photo galleries on NASA.gov and on Flickr from teams of photographers located on the ground in Florida. It also included videos being posted to the NASA.gov video collections, the NASA.gov HD page and also on YouTube. We also posted MP3 soundbites on the NASA Audiofile page, and supporting documents across the NASA.gov site.
In all, this was a busy, but exciting day for us here on the NASA.gov team as we provided this special coverage of the event. Hopefully, some of these technologies will be used again in the future and eventually, become standard fare for our online offerings. Let us know what you thought of it all. Did you like our coverage? Did something not work right for you? Please let us know. We’re always listening.