Storage key to NASA investigation

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) officials said this week that voice messages, video and photos being collected from the public are creating a data picture that will play a key role in determining the cause of the Columbia disaster. The trick will be managing that data.

Agency officials said they're considering using tools developed in-house, including a Web-based application called the InvestigationOrganizer that was rolled out in November, to aggregate the data. The application provides data storage, management and analysis capabilities to accident investigation teams.

Tina Panotin, chief engineer at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field in California, said in an e-mail interview this week that InvestigationOrganizer "is currently being assessed against the investigation teams' requirements, as are other options."

NASA is asking members of the public to send videos and photos of the shuttle breakup to an FTP site at www.nasa.gov/columbia/ COL_upload.html.

"The public has been tremendously responsive. They've been responding to the Web sites; they've been responding to the hot lines," Robert Mirelson, chief of news and information at NASA headquarters in Washington, said during a press briefing this week.

In the past, NASA said its accident investigation teams had no standard methods or tools for information storage, management, dissemination or analysis.

NASA's InvestigatorOrganizer uses a database, a document-sharing system and a Web-based data navigation system that allows scientists to browse through information and organize it and file it so it can be accessed online in a common file-sharing system. The software is password-protected and employs encryption technology to ensure security, NASA officials said.

Whether InvestigationOrganizer is used or not, Panotin said, "all data is being treated with the appropriate security and with the consideration that the data must be made available to the investigation teams."

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