Thanks to the Internet, NASA can bring it into your living room, to a local Internet cafe, or anywhere else with access to the World Wide Web. Between 3 a.m. EST Saturday and 9:30 a.m. EST Tuesday, NASA’s Web portal, which includes the agency’s home page, the Mars program Web and the Spaceflight Web, received 916 million hits, and users downloaded 154 million Web pages. The site’s one- billionth hit was expected at about 3 p.m. EST Tuesday. In comparison, the portal received 2.8 billion hits for all of 2003.
Internet users began tuning in to the Web cast of NASA Television on Saturday, Jan. 4, and kept coming back. By Tuesday, more than 250,000 people had watched some of the mission coverage. More than 48,000 people tuned into mission control for the landing at 11:30 p.m. EST on Saturday.
“We knew this mission would be a great opportunity to bring the excitement of exploring Mars directly to people,” said Michelle Viotti, manager of public engagement for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. “Six years ago, Mars Pathfinder allowed the world to participate in planetary exploration, and broke all prior Internet records for Web traffic. It looks like we may do it again, and this time we’ll have even more to offer online so the public can share the adventure in real time.”
By early Tuesday, users downloaded nearly 15 terabytes of information from the portal (a terabyte (Tb) is a million megabytes). A Tb of data would fill about one million standard floppy disks or more than 1,300 data CDs. It would take more about 20,000 CDs to store 15 Tbs. That’s a stack of CDs, without cases, more than 100 feet high.)
Since 1994, when Comet Shoemaker-Levy collided with Jupiter, NASA has been using the Internet to bring the excitement of exploration directly to the public,” said Brian Dunbar, NASA’s Internet services manager. “Most of the time we host these sites on the NASA network, but events of this magnitude require more bandwidth than we can provide ourselves. So when we were defining requirements for the portal, a scalable, secure, offsite hosting environment was a requirement.” For comparison, 24-hour traffic figures for major NASA events in the Internet era:
Pathfinder, July 9, 1997, hits: 47 million; Mars Polar Lander, Dec. 3, 1999, hits: 69 million; Columbia loss, Feb. 1, 2003, hits: 75, 539, 052; sessions: 1,060,887; page views: 10,042,668; Tbs: 0.41; Stardust, Jan. 2, 2004, hits: 12,011,502; sessions: 120,339; page views: 1,651,898; Tbs: 0.12; Spirit landing, Jan. 3-4, 2004, hits: 109,172,900; Tbs: 2.2.
Brought online less than a year ago, the NASA Web portal uses a commercial hosting infrastructure with capacity that can be readily increased to accommodate short-term, high-visibility events. Content is replicated and stored on 1,300 computers worldwide to shorten download times for users.
In 1997, the Mars Pathfinder team built a volunteer network of reflector sites and served one of the biggest Internet events to that time, if not the biggest. For the Mars Exploration Rovers, the existing portal infrastructure was available, so the Mars Web content was incorporated into the environment.
The portal prime contractor is eTouch Systems Corp. of Fremont, Calif. Speedera Networks, Inc., of Santa Clara, Calif. is delivering the NASA Web content over its globally distributed on-demand computer network. Content is replicated and stored on thousands of computer servers around the world to shorten download times for users.
This infrastructure enables NASA to provide access to the latest images from Mars, which will automatically be added to the Mars Exploration Rover site as they are received on Earth. The network also allows NASA’s museum partners to access high- resolution images and video for big-screen, highly immersive experiences in local communities. Students and teachers will also find weekly classroom activities so that they can be a part of discovery on Mars.