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For release: 10/01/03
Release #: 03-176

NASA’s International Space Station Science control center updates information technology while cutting costs

Photo description: Payload Operations Center

Modernizing information technology at its control center for all science experiments on board the International Space Station is saving NASA millions of dollars. At the Marshall Center's Payload Operations Center, scientists and engineers are using newer, less expensive systems that incorporate the best 21st century technology to monitor science activities.

Photo: Payload Operations Center (NASA/MSFC)

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA's) control center for all science experiments on board the International Space Station is modernizing its information technology while saving the agency millions of dollars.

From the Payload Operations Center at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., scientists and engineers operate all the U.S. experiments located 240 miles above Earth on the Space Station. For more than two years, they have used complex computer systems and software to communicate with experiments and other equipment — 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Ground Systems Department — part of the Flight Projects Directorate at the Marshall Center — is replacing outdated computer platforms, servers, networks and software with less expensive, more robust systems that incorporate the best 21st century technology. Every day these systems monitor and store several billion bits of data from the Space Station, while simultaneously handling many time-critical commands to Space Station equipment, and serving a diverse community of research scientists located around the globe.

"We are well along on a two-year series of cost-saving initiatives," said Ann McNair, manager of the Ground Systems Department. "Our controllers, who watch over Space Station science experiments on a daily basis, don't really see these behind-the-scenes changes, which is as it should be. But the system today is more reliable, more maintainable and more economical."

The Ground Systems Department is making many of these changes through the Utilization and Mission Support contract with Lockheed Martin Space Operations Co., Huntsville, Ala. According to McNair, the team is about halfway through a series of planned upgrades that include:

  • Migrating server platforms from high-priced servers to inexpensive servers running an open-source operating system;

  • Migrating client platforms from expensive workstations to low-price personal computers;

  • Replacing a physically scattered, difficult-to-manage data storage system with a centralized Network Attached Storage/Storage Area Network approach;

  • Replacing expensive 48-channel custom voice sets with Voice over Internet Protocol, available directly from a remote user's personal computer;

  • Creating a mature, efficient software baseline through close interaction with the users and system administrators;

  • Migrating from end-of-life Fiber Distributed Data Interface Local Area Networks to high-speed switched networks;

  • Increasing system availability by using high availability clusters that are virtually unaffected by individual equipment failures;

  • Using multiple layers of rigorous security measures, including Virtual Private Networks, for all outside users to minimize system vulnerability; and

  • Establishing a funding plan based on continuous technology updates rather than large, wholesale technology replacements.

The result of these changes will be a robust, secure, high-performance information technology system that is fully supported by industry vendors, takes advantage of modern computing technologies, and costs a fraction of the current system. This new system will improve NASA's ability to collect and disseminate the scientific information from the International Space Station.

For more information:
News release
Science Operations News

Steve Roy
Public Affairs Office
(256) 544-0034

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