Web site overlap may belie NASA divides

NASA HQ ISS web page

NASA is wasting money by using three multimedia Web sites to track the same International Space Station (ISS) data, one former agency scientist said, adding that such inefficiency could indicate that NASA struggles to manage large missions.

Keith Cowing, a former NASA life scientist who now edits the uncensored NASA Watch blog, posted an entry today that links to three agency Web sites displaying similar ISS tracking resources. The Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., hosts one site, the Johnson Space Center in Houston hosts another, and NASA’s headquarters hosts the last one. The sites don’t link to one another.

Cowing wrote, “And this is the same space agency that is going to cooperate between its headquarters and its various field centers so as to go back to the moon -- when it can't even get a few Web [developers] to coordinate? This ‘pretend the other site doesn't exist' tactic is tired -- and just plain childish.”

He adds, “C'mon folks. Use taxpayer dollars responsibly and link to each other -- and coordinate your resources. You all work for NASA, yes?”

The NASA Watch Webmaster and former ISS scientist said the agency’s ongoing One NASA effort is hypocritical.

NASA officials say that One NASA will allow the agency to operate as one team while applying many diverse capabilities to accomplish its vision of space exploration. The One NASA initiative is supposed to remove impediments to the vision by fostering collaboration and promoting efficiency.

“I have probably complained about this 50 times in the past 10 years,” said Cowing, who left NASA a decade ago after serving the agency as a contractor and civil servant for a decade.

He said excessive Web sites are not going to interfere with shuttle launches, but he added that divisiveness among centers hints at deeper troubles within the space program.

Government Accountability Office auditors released a report this week that documents how NASA centers vary in their implementations of project management policies for flight systems and ground support.

GAO officials wrote that “a standardized, knowledge-based approach would prepare NASA to face competing budgetary priorities and make difficult decisions regarding the investment in and termination of projects.”

“There’s a lot of suspicion about NASA’s ability to do things,” Cowing said. “If you can’t get people to drive a bunch of…Web sites, don’t you think that rocket science is going to be a bigger problem?”

NASA officials said the agency could link the multiple ISS sites.

Linking the sites is “something we’re looking at possibly doing,” NASA spokesman Allard Beutel said today. “We are and have been in the process now of finding out what is the best way to get the information [about ISS] to the public – a sort of one-stop shop.”

He added that each of the sites offers slightly different features. For example, the most authoritative information comes from the Johnson Space Center, which posts real-time data direct from mission control. The Marshall Space Flight Center reports data on satellites and other spacecraft in addition to the ISS.

“They’re redundant in some degree but not entirely,” Beutel said.

He added that NASA did not originally unify the Web sites because of the Internet’s maturity and its effect on Web development, not because of research center rivalries.

“It’s not a matter of people not wanting to talk to each other,” Beutel said. “Each group is doing its own piece of the pie, serving the public. It’s been a process, and a process takes time.”

“If you gave me five minutes, I could link these sites,” Cowing said. “This is not rocket science. It’s HTML.”

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