A Universe Of Information

Storage That's Out Of This World

Are we alone in the universe? What does the surface of Venus look like?How many rings are actually around Saturn and Uranus? The mysteries of the universeintrigue us all. At the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL; Pasadena, Calif.), their goal isto bring answers to our many questions and to make the answers available to anyone,anywhere.

On-Board The Enterprise Storage

But when the JPL set out to use its Planetary Data System to share the knowledge gainedfrom the many NASA space missions, it was left with a question. How could the galaxies ofinformation gathered on these missions of exploration be disseminated? With an audience ofschools, public libraries, scientists and the general public, the JPL was faced with asignificant challenge, one that could not be solved by its own stellar technology.

Before 1985, the only option for sending out the massive amounts of photos andinformation was tape storage. But the limitations of tapes were great. Tapes could not beread after one year. The users didn't have access to the expensive tape drives needed toread the information. There was no standard file format which could be used on the tapes,making it difficult to distribute to the various operating systems.

That year, however, an enabling technology was found to meet these challenges -- CDROM. As the Voyager mission blasted off, JPL prepared to store the many images it expectedto receive from the mission. However, a significant development in satellite technology in1990 allowed the mission spacecraft to send back even more information to Earth. On theMagellan mission alone, over 500 CD titles mapping the surface of Venus were published. Totry to store this amount of data on tape would have been cost prohibitive. Still, CD-ROMhas its limitations.

Jupiter In A Jukebox?

With CD Jukebox technology from Tracer Technologies (Gaithersburg, Md.), JPL is able tobetter perform a critical function -- providing information to the world about space.Images are standardized so that any platform can access the data. And by leveraging therapid acceptance of the Internet, public access to this information has increasedtremendously. JPL is able to offer a CD catalog of all of its missions via their Web site.In minutes, anyone from China to Connecticut can download a picture of the surface ofVenus.

"We are constantly pursuing technologies to support our meeting the goal ofunlocking the universe. There are questions that everyone has," said Jason Hyon fromJPL. "With a given technology at a given time, we can take more steps toward ourgoal. We are continuously improving our technology and modifying our theories, hoping toultimately answer the questions of our universe."

With the help of JPL, everyone, from school children compiling reports for classes toX-Files fans trying to confirm their theories of extraterrestrial conspiracy, can downloadimages that were once only available to only a few scientists.