Over the past 30 years, a wealth of remote sensing data has been obtained and stored by NASA and other Federal agencies pertaining to the Earth and Space sciences. Results obtained from these data have generally been disseminated to the public through press releases and press conferences during space missions, for sale at museums, or in information booklets and posters which are available to educators upon request to the responsible NASA center . More recently, with the growth of the National Information Infrastructure (NII), informational bulletin boards and home pages have appeared on computer networks which highlight various remote sensing databases and allow display of a variety of images and in some cases associated text. The recent exponential explosion of usage ushered in by anonymous ftp, Gopher, World Wide Web and MOSAIC has created a wealth of structured information. Interested users with connections to these networks can enjoy access to these resources. Unfortunately, such connections are not typically available to a wide spectrum of the general public, nor do a large fraction of the general public have the computer literacy to navigate the information highway in order to access these images. In addition, the user interfaces available, while elegant in their design as network tools, are not well suited to novice users.
We propose a pilot project to develop, implement, and deploy a Remote Sensing Data Base (RSDB) application in a network-based test-bed deployed in libraries and hands-on science museums. This application, "Windows to the Universe", will be accessible at workstations available to the public in these settings. We believe that the recently developed intense national interest in improvement of public access to the National Information Infrastructure (NII), and the specific interest in the dissemination of government held RSDB can be served by this proposal. Our effort will provide Internet access to these data bases and value-added products, to a wide spectrum of the general public. Museums and public libraries are prime locations for intersecting significant numbers of people, representing a broad cross-section of the general public ranging in age from pre-school to the elderly and including both sexes, multiple races, and diverse religions and nationalities. The yearly attendance at science museums nationally in 1993 was over 55 million persons. There are over 89,000 public and school libraries serving nearly every hamlet and community in the nation. These libraries are used by approximately half of the national population each year.
At present, science museums summarize and condense selections of the results obtained from remote sensing in topical displays, but until recently little interaction with the information has been possible. Mr. Clarke, a Co-I, broke pioneering ground in this area recently by arranging for installation of an Internet-connected high performance computer equipped with state-of-the-art interactive software in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum during the 2nd encounter by the Galileo spacecraft (now enroute to Jupiter) of the Earth for a 2-week period about closest approach. Public libraries provide access to information in a variety of formats, including a wide range of on-line data bases and CD-ROMs. Up to now, however, links with the Internet have not, generally, been possible in most libraries because the information infrastructure has been developed around universities. The links have not yet been made available to community resources such as libraries or museums. Public libraries are now seeking approaches to gaining full Internet access, so that the enormous data resources available over the computer networks can be made available to the general public. The SILS, where Prof. Durrance (a Co-I) is based, recently conducted a Satellite Town Meeting on information infrastructure for public, academic, special and school librarians. Over 700 librarians attended through participation at 20 downlink sites in Michigan. The program sought to foster high-end connectivity and encouraged librarians to seek connectivity at a level which will support applications such as Mosaic.
Unfortunately, just providing the link to the Internet will not provide access to the information content within the data bases. We are proposing to build a set of tools and content material (which we refer to as "Windows to the Universe" or more briefly as "the application") that will support access to a set of remote sensing data of Earth, the solar system, and space. The important point is that a focused effort in the development of the presentation of content material and the crafting of the user interface is necessary before the data on the Internet becomes information for the user.