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NASA just made its public image collection more searchable than ever before

NASA has amassed a vast collection of mind-blowing images over the decades. It hasn’t always been easy to search their database – until now. 

Although the organisation created a position called ‘Imagery Program Manager’ for NASA as a whole, the current holder of this title, Rodney Grubbs, has said that public access to images used to be “pretty frustrating because you had to have a lot of knowledge about NASA itself to know where a particular image might be.”

For one thing, the collection has long been spread out among various departments and specialised institutions which fall under NASA’s massive umbrella. And for a bureaucratic institution with a mandate to explore the universe, sorting photo collections into easily searchable files hasn’t been a priority, understandably.

But as the internet came into its own, NASA gradually started digitising and collating its public images, eventually turning to the private sector to help with the process. The challenge was to take approximately 140,000 photographs and recordings, spread out over more than 100 collections, and consolidate them into something which could be searched by any school kid with a looming deadline for their science project.

One major issue with having so many separate databases in one institution: redundancy. A single photo could exist in duplicate or triplicate, and there was no efficient way to check whether that was the case for any given photo. So a major step in the project was creating a process whereby duplicates could be detected and eliminated automatically.

If you think this all sounds easy, consider that it only took NASA a few years to put someone on the Moon after JFK promised it would happen. But this database has been nearly 20 years in the making, if you count all the false starts in the early 2000s. (Sure, that’s not a totally fair comparison, but let’s just appreciate that this new resource is a real achievement).

So enough about how this came about; how can you search the database?

By using this simple search page. You can narrow down the type of media you want in your search results, the timeframe for your results, and so on. So take a few minutes to check out the incredible free resource which NASA has just given to everyone with an internet connection. Let’s not take it for granted.

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