Working with NASA

By Phil Plait | July 9, 2011 8:38 am

Did you know NASA collects 4 terabytes of data each day? And that a lot of this data is available to the public?

My friend Chris Pirillo interviewed Nick Skytland from NASA’s Open Government Initiative, and they talk about what NASA does beyond launching rockets:

Pretty cool. NASA does a lot of stuff… so of course the House of Representatives is talking about massively cutting it back. Incidentally, since writing that post, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) is gathering her forces to block canceling the James Webb Space Telescope program. I sent her a note thanking her, and hopefully the Senate can reign in the House’s political bluster.

And speaking of all this, with the successful launch of Atlantis, if you have Google Earth you can track the location of the Orbiter! Pretty cool. Also, as usual, will allow you to predict the times when Atlantis and the Space Station are visible from your location.

Related posts:

Congress puts NASA and JWST on the chopping block
Atlantis rides above the waves
Call for Help!


Comments (15)

  1. terryp

    four terabytes seems low. i would’ve expected a lot more than that.

  2. Glen

    I’m traveling from the west coast to the east coast this week, and no matter where I am, all passes of the shuttle occur during daylight hours. Looks like we can’t see it in the States.

  3. spiridonia

    Hi Phil. Just wanted you to know that Google Earth’s Shuttle tracking locked up my computer twice. The first time I opened the file directly from the site. The second time I downloaded the file and opened it in Google Earth, but after about fifteen minutes everything locked up. Now, I realize when it comes to software problems it’s difficult to pinpoint the causes. I just wonder if anyone else has experienced anything similar. Thanks.

  4. T-storm

    It’ll pass over the same lattitude about every 90 minutes and every 90 minutes after that be about 7.5 deg longitude to the west.


  5. Jamey

    Unfortunately for NASA, they really haven’t managed to impress on the minds of the public that they do other things. Most would be hard pressed to remember what the first A in NASA stands for (aeronautics), and the only connection between NASA and planes they remember is the big jet carrying the Shuttle, and rocket planes from the 50s and 60s – and most people think of that stuff as military activities, and not NASA activities.

    Perhaps one of the problems has always been NASA’s “professionalism” – the cold emotionless approach they take. I watched the 1pm eastern press conference on NASA-HD via live stream – and one of the things that struck me was that none of the NASA people sounded particularly exuberant, or depressed. Sure, they didn’t speak in a monotone, but they hardly seemed *THAT* excited that the launch had gone so smoothly, or depressed that this was *IT* – the final launch.

    Space needs to become something *EVERYONE* feels vested in. Not the domain of super-trained astronauts who spend 20 hours a day studying minute details of their jobs, followed by another 20 hours a day of intensive physical work out, followed by another 20 hours of study in the field of science they work in, so they can understand the experiments they’re supposed to be carrying out.

    As it stands, it’s not a frontier, where a family can load up a wagon and head out to make a better life for themselves, but a playground for ultra-trained carefully selected supermen, and a few ultra-rich.

  6. Crux Australis

    Um…that’s cool and all, but…wouldn’t it have been more useful if they had brought out the Google Earth plugin some time *before* the end of the Shuttle program?

  7. MadScientist

    Data from the NASA satellites are paid for by the taxpayers and by law all that information must be made available (at some time) to the US public. Years ago when the international distribution of data was discussed, it was decided that it would be best to make the information freely available to the world and for the benefit of science rather than waste resources policing the data. Unfortunately the European Space Agency does not do the same. Anyhow, while there is an awful lot of information out there, you have to know a hell of a lot to be able to process and make sense of it. On the other hand, NASA and other organizations also make a lot of the pretty processed images freely available.

  8. Unimpressed

    Phil, even you admitted in an earlier post that the JWST is a dog’s breakfast of a program: over budget, late and mismanaged. Sen. Mikulski reaching out and successfully saving the program will be a great thing for astronomy, and a lousy deal for taxpayers. The lesson it leaves NASA with is that being an effective guardian of the public’s money isn’t as important as reaching for the right political levers.

    IMO, the impediments to returning to greatness — NASA’s bureaucratic culture, apparently marginal program management skills, and lousy brand image with the public — are tough issues, and the human impulse will be to pay lip service to fixing them as long as someone can reach in and pull the Agency’s bacon out of the fire.

    It’s not just NASA. Deep cuts will be devastating for lots of people’s favorite areas. But we also have a culture across the federal government where there’s no direct link between the quality with which a program is run and the level of public money that goes into it. So we continue slouching along into deeper debt, with less and less to show for it.

  9. It’s got to be more than 4 terabytes. SDO all by itself generates 1.5 terabytes a day. Add the 3 terabytes a day the EOS satellites collectively generate, and you’re already well over.

  10. scanner

    Phil if they do cancel the JWST the remains will be sold government surplus, right? A perfect opportunity for an activist group of scientists to buy everything and fund raise to complete it. Finding a main sponsor shouldn’t be to hard although the name might have to change. How about the Ronald MacDonald Space Telescope?

  11. Rob

    The only reason Senator Mikulski is trying to save the JWST is because the Space Telescope Science Institute is in Baltimore. Her motivation is porkbarrelling a massively over-budget program that should have been killed years ago.

  12. sion warwick

    As a horse person, it drives me nuts when people mix up reign and rein!

    Rein, the strap of leather (or other material) attached to the bit of a horse’s bridle. You rein in a horse.

    Reign, to rule over


  13. BigBadSis

    @11. Rob: I don’t believe for a minute that Barbara Mikulski is pulling pork barrel tactics here. Of course, she does try to protect her constituency, as any good senator does, but Babs, as we fondly call her here in B-more, is a very intelligent public servant who listens to and understands scientists and their craft. She knows it’s wildly over budget, but that continuing it’s funding with a practical and manageable plan to keep it’s future in budget is worthwhile for the country and the world’s scientists.

  14. mike

    Scanner, you would be some sort of magician to raise the billions needed to complete the telescope. I’m quite jealous of the way money is shoved into the space programs to be honest. I just spent 4 months almost full time to raise the required 90k for a next year project… 1 million dollars would fund our labs work for a long time…

  15. QuietDesperation

    Reign, to rule over

    “Love, Reign o’er me, rain on me” — The Who


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