Big Data: NASA’s new technological challenge

In the future, the challenge for NASA won't just be to launch incredible space missions; its most important technological challenge may be managing and storing the Big Data generated by its research projects.

NASA is undoubtedly the biggest international space agency. Created in 1958, its work has made some of the greatest challenges in the area of space exploration possible. For example, thanks to its projects, the first human landed on the Moon in Apollo 11.

Its initiatives have always been to “pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research”, according NASA’s 2006 Mission Statement.

The agency’s work continues today: the launch of the MAVEN probe, the tracking of the International Space Station or the kickoff of innovative TDRS  communications satellites are just a few of the initiatives to promote the expansion of our scientific and technological knowledge.


But how do you manage the mind-boggling quantity of space data?

NASA’s challenge for the next decade will not only be to design new initiatives related to space exploration. One of the biggest challenges will undoubtedly be to develop suitable platforms to manage the Big Data produced in all of the NASA missions.

This is not the first project aimed at exploring new ways to store and use the Big Data generated in a line of scientific research. However, the challenge facing NASA is a fundamental one, because thanks to its projects, hundreds of terabytes of data are stored per second, which would require the equivalent of tens of millions of trees to produce the paper to record it.

Well aware of this need, a group of scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has started to study possible strategies for storing and managing the data generated every day by the agency. This initiative is vitally important because it will make it possible to continue to guarantee the success of weather forecasts, the search for far-flung galaxies or the study of the red planet in the future.

Bringing science to the general public

Its work will focus on the development of specialised software, in addition to the use of cloud computing or the adaptation of open-source platforms to cover all of the needs of the teams working at NASA. But its objectives don’t stop there.


Due to the considerable public interest generated by the information provided by NASA, researchers are also studying ways to make this Big Data more accessible and versatile for society. This is due to the fact that NASA doesn’t just accumulate “raw” data, but also develops and captures images, videos and animations that are of immense interest for the spread of scientific knowledge.

This means that the work of the scientists in Pasadena will not only be vital to ensuring the success of NASA’s upcoming space missions. The initiative will also serve society, which will be able to see how science is within its grasp. A great initiative that once again demonstrates the importance of Big Data in the technological research of the future.

Images | NASA HQ Photo (Flickr), NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (Flickr), NASA (Wikimedia)

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