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Assessment of the Usefulness and Availability of NASA’s Earth and Space Science Mission Data
centers, and data services and use of their Web sites—the task group’s answers to the charge (see Appendix A) are summarized below:
Charge 1. How available and accessible are data from science missions (after expiration of processing and proprietary analysis periods, if any) from the point of view of both scientists in the larger U.S. research community, as well as U.S. education, public outreach and policy specialists, and private industry? What, if anything, should be changed to improve accessibility?
As few as 10 years ago, NASA’s data collections were accessible mainly to researchers involved with specific missions. With the advent of a NASA network of active archives, data centers, and data services, most newer data sets have become widely available, especially to researchers. Enhancements in bandwidth and planned increases in the number of online data sets available through publicly accessible data facilities will improve the accessibility of NASA’s earth and space science data still further over the next decade. However, much of the older data (e.g., in the fields of solar and space physics and planetary science) is still in the hands of principal investigators (PIs) or is not available in formats that users need. Other data or information products (e.g., education and nonscientific applications products) are available on project Web sites but may require extensive searching to find, and their long-term availability is not assured. Further improvements in cataloging and documentation will be required to help users find data.
Charge 2. How useful are current data collections and archives from NASA’s science missions as resources in support of high priority scientific studies in each Enterprise [i.e., NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise and Space Science Enterprise]? How well are areas such as data preservation, documentation, validation, and quality control being addressed? Are there significant obstacles to appropriately broad scientific use of the data? Are there impediments to distribution of derived data sets? Are there any changes in data handling and data dissemination that would improve usefulness?
The use of archival data has contributed to a number of scientific advances in the earth and space sciences (e.g., confirmation of the Antarctic ozone hole and the accelerating expansion of the universe). The large and growing number of users—coupled with the positive results of user surveys, external reviews, and the task group’s own experience with the data facilities—attests to the usefulness of the data in a wide variety of investigations.
Many data sets will grow in value as the time period covered by the measurements lengthens. However, getting the most out of existing data sets will require the development of software tools for handling the data (e.g., for changing formats, subsetting large data sets, and querying and visualizing data sets) and improvements in documentation, user interfaces, and technical and scientific support. These improvements will be even more important for dealing with the projected growth in the volume of data (one to two orders of magnitude over the next 5 years) and the increasing need to integrate disparate data sets for both research and applications purposes. Maintaining accessibility and compatibility with changing standards for storage media, software tools, and so forth in the long term will present substantial challenges in terms of both cost and management. Although issues of validation and quality control of individual data sets were not directly addressed in this study, the task group’s generally positive findings about data usefulness suggest that these issues do not now pose either major or widespread obstacles to data