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January 06, 2004

Mars Mania Lands Online

First Color Image from Spirit
First Color Image from Spirit.
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As the spacecraft flies, Mars is millions of miles away. 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 12 noon Pacific Standard Time (3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time) Saturday and 6:30 a.m. PST (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 12 noon PST (3 p.m. EST) Tuesday. In comparison, the portal received 2.8 billion hits for all of 2003. A hit is counted each time a Web site visitor downloads a picture, graphic element or the text on a Web page.

Internet users began tuning in to the webcast 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 8:30 a.m. PST (11:30 p.m. EST) on Saturday.

"The wonders of space are now a mouse click away," said Dr. Charles Elachi, director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., which manages the Mars Exploration Rover program. "Who knows how many kids will be inspired to study science or engineering because of the martian journey they're experiencing on our Web sites." The JPL site at , which features the latest news and images from the Mars rover Spirit, has received 107 million hits since Saturday. The NASA Portal site includes Mars information at .

By early Tuesday, users downloaded nearly 15 terabytes of information from the portal (a terabyte is a million megabytes. A terabyte 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 terabytes. 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; terabytes: 0.41; Stardust, Jan. 2, 2004, hits: 12,011,502; sessions: 120,339; page views: 1,651,898; terabytes: 0.12; Spirit landing, Jan. 3-4, 2004, hits: 109,172,900; terabytes: 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.

"The portal was designed technically and graphically to enable NASA to communicate directly with members of the public, especially young people," said Dunbar. "It's a key element of NASA's mission to inspire the next generation of explorers as only NASA can."

For more information about NASA programs on the Internet, visit

Jane Platt (818) 354-0880
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Bob Jacobs (202) 358-1600
NASA Headquarters, Washington

NEWS RELEASE: 2004-009