NSSDC Offers Services and Data Via the WWW

Volume 10, Number 2, September 1994
by Ed Bell
The NSSDC, as many of you know, has made large strides in the past year in making more of its data, information, and services available over the Internet. Specifically, the NSSDC has been using the capabilities of the World-Wide Web (WWW) and its various accompanying browsers to do this. These won't be discussed in detail here, both because such a discussion appeared in the previous issue of NSSDC News as well as because this issue is a testimony to this effort and distribution method.

The bulk of our services on the web have only been available a comparatively short time (since June), although some have been in place for some time. Therefore, many of the services discussed herein may be unfamiliar to you. Therefore, this article in intended to be both an overview of what NSSDC staff have been able to do so far and what is on the horizon.

Science Discipline Support

The main thrust of our WWW effort has been the direct support of individual science disciplines. Each science discipline currently supported by NSSDC has (or soon will have) a separate set of pages accessible from the NSSDC Home Page. Whereas the intent of the NSSDC Home Page is to provide an overview of and access to NSSDC's services and data holdings, the discipline pages are intended to concentrate on those services and data pertinent to that discipline. Each discipline's current and future capabilities is discussed below.

Astrophysics

Astrophysics does not yet have a separate home page, although a set of project-specific pages for COBE allows interested users to read about and retrieve data from the mission. Work is also currently progressing to develop a means to locate and retrieve needed astronomical catalogs from the Astronomical Data Center (ADC).

Space Physics

The Space Physics Home Page was brought on-line in June of this year. It allows access, as all of the discipline home pages do, to many of NSSDC's more generic services (the NASA Master Directory, the CD-ROM Catalog , etc.), but also allows access to services and data relevant to the space physics community. These include access to information about the Space Physics Data System and NSSDC's sibling organization the Space Physics Data Facility as well as access to potential other sources of geophysical data available from other agencies (e.g., the National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC) Solar-Terrestrial Data ). Access to NSSDC's popular data and models is also provided, including OMNI, the COHO database, the various models (ionospheric, magnetospheric, solar, etc.) available. Finally, two data systems, the Coordinated Data Analysis Workshops (CDAW) and Satellite Situation Center (SSC) are also available.

Solar Physics

The Solar Physics Home Page provides access to some sample solar image data (shuttle, Yohkoh) and to some solar stereo image pairs from Skylab. In addition to the standard NSSDC services, access to the Solar Data Analysis Center and the NOAA Space Environment Library is also provided.

Planetary Science

The Planetary Science Home Page provides access to a wide variety of information about and data from planetary missions. The first of NSSDC's discipline home pages to be placed on-line, the planetary page has been available since Jan. 1994. The planetary page allows interested users to access information about recently arrived or soon-to-arrive data, access to data and information regarding the impact of Comet P/Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter, the Apollo 25th anniversary and lunar data available from NSSDC, answers to frequently asked questions about planetary data which NSSDC archives, information about several missions (including Galileo, Magellan, Clementine, Cassini, Pluto Fast Flyby, NEAR, and more). In addition, the planetary page permits users to access several other sources of NASA planetary data, information, and services, including the Planetary Data System (PDS) and the Regional Planetary Image Facilities (RPIF) among others.

Life Science

NSSDC is supporting an on-going effort from the Office of Life and Microgravity Sciences Applications (OLMSA) at NASA Headquarters to form a Life Sciences Data Archive (LSDA). This is being done in coordination with life sciences personnel at Johnson Space Center and Ames Research Center. A prototype of the system for the WWW should be available in December 1994.

Publications

A number of NSSDC's traditional paper documents are also now available via the WWW. The first of these was the NSSDC CD-ROM Catalog. The WWW version of the catalog allows users not only to read information about the CD-ROM data sets, but order the discs they want, too. In addition, some 85 of the discs discussed in the catalog are directly accessible via a jukebox mounted at Ames Research Center, allowing users to directly obtain images. A new, enhanced version of the CD-ROM order form should be implemented shortly after the appearance of this newsletter.

Publication of the NSSDC News began with the Winter 1994 and Spring 1994 issues. This issue continues this practice and, as noted elsewhere, marks the beginning of new era in electronic publishing by NSSDC. This and all future issues will only be fully available electronically with shorter abstracted hardcopy newsletters being issued via postal delivery. It is hoped that this will provide not only a shorter length of time to bring the information to NSSDC's users, but will save us on postage (which allows us to redirect the money into improving other services) and eliminate a few trees dying and landfills from filling up as well.

The final publication (at this time) which is available electronically is the SPACEWARN Bulletin. Although the SPACEWARN Bulletin has been available via anonymous FTP for several years now, it was felt that making issues available via the WWW would make it even more accessible and (perhaps) reduce the number of paper copies sent out each month.

Data Systems

NSSDC is striving to make more of its data holdings more directly available using the WWW, too. This is being worked out in two different manners. The first is by custom designing WWW pages to directly access on-line data. The second is by providing access into NSSDC's near-line system, NDADS. We'll begin with the latter.

Typically, users requests data from NDADS via an electronic-mail interface called ARMS (the Automated Retrieval Mail System). Users submit a request to NDADS for data or information using e-mail and the system stages the data for anonymous FTP on NSSDC's VAX system and sends the requester an e-mail message specifying where the data and/or documentation can be found. Two separate web-based interfaces to NDADS are being worked at this time to add to this interface. The first is a web extension to the ARMS system. This web-based NDADS ARMS system allows users to request data from the missions and instrument for which NSSDC holds data on NDADS using a forms interface. The interface can, in some cases, even stage the data on the users system.

A second interface into the NDADS system under development is QUASAR (for Queryable User Access to Scientific Archive Retrieval). Unlike the web-based ARMS interface, QUASAR allows even users of proprietary data to access their data on NDADS. Like the ARMS interface, the data can be staged onto the users system if desired. Both of these WWW interfaces to NDADS are in development. Interested users are encouraged to try both and provide NSSDC developers with feedback on their impressions of the systems. Some of NSSDC's data holdings are immediately available, usually via anonymous FTP. Some of these holdings are being made available (e.g. the COHO and space physics models as discussed in the space physics section above or the Shoemaker-Levy 9 pages as discussed under the planetary section) under discipline home pages. Some, however, are new services based entirely on the WWW. One such example is the NSSDC Photo Gallery. Consisting right now of frequently requested planetary photos, the NSSDC Photo Gallery has several purposes. First, it allows users to see samples of NSSDC's extensive analog photographic inventory. Second, some of the images have been produced from digital data available from NSSDC. This allows users to see what can be done with some of the data. Finally, as NSSDC converts more of its analog archives to digital format, many more images will become available. The photo gallery is our first step toward that end.

Information Systems

NSSDC has developed and maintained several information systems over the years, from high-level overviews of data holdings at NSSDC and elsewhere (the NASA Master Directory (NMD)) to more detailed information about data holdings at NSSDC (the NSSDC Master Catalog (NMC)) to still more detailed inventory information (typically for in-house use only). The NMD and NMC have been accessible for some time now via NSSDC's on-line data and information system NODIS via telnet connection. A version of the NMD (actually, its sibling system the Global Change Master Directory, or GCMD, but with the same content) is in development. A version of this system will be operational on NSSDC's host machine in the near future. At that point, the systems will become more divergent.

NSSDC's other main information system, the NMC, is also expected to be available in the coming months as a web-based query interface is developed. Keep an eye out on the NSSDC home page for updates.

The Future

We hope that you will keep an eye out for our enhancements to NSSDC's services in the coming months. Significant changes will appear under our "What's New" headers, either on the NSSDC home page or (for discipline-specific information) on the discipline home pages. We welcome your comments and feedback on what we do right and what we do wrong. Contact names are provided at the bottom of nearly every page presented, so feel free to contact those people with your comments.

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Author:Miranda Beall
Curators: Erin Gardner and Miranda Beall
Responsible Official: Dr. Joseph H. King, Code 633
Last Revised: 21 Nov 1996 [EDG]