NASA's acting chief
information officer plans a dramatic overhaul of the space
agency's computer architecture that will create a single agencywide
system that is highly secure, tightly controlled and far more
responsive than the multiple systems the agency uses today.
Sixteen days after
assuming CIO duties, Paul Strassmann described a computer
architecture managed by two highly secure "mission control
centers" so well wired that they "will know when
anybody twitches on the network."
vision, NASA employees will need high-security smart cards
to access their office buildings and their computers.
The space agency
will create an "information systems services utility"
that delivers "end-to-end computing services all the
way down, not only to the desktop, but also to the keystroke,"
Strassmann said during a meeting with reporters Aug. 2.
bought [into] the fundamental premise that the network is
the computer and the computers are just peripherals,"
Strassmann said. The concept represents "a major reorientation
of NASA to look at 21st century computing."
his plans would deliver "substantial savings" for
NASA, which now spends more than $1.5 billion a year on its
computer systems, although he did not specify the savings
A key element of
the planned information technology overhaul is modeled after
NASA's "major intellectual achievement" —
mission control, Strassmann said.
Using as a prototype
the mission control centers — which remotely manage
the complex machinery of space flight — Strassmann said
he wants to build two identical mission control centers to
manage NASA's information systems.
Each center will
have the help desks, security control, communication availability
and software and hardware configuration needed to run NASA's
computer systems worldwide, he said.
The mission control
centers would operate around the clock and ideally would have
no more than 20 minutes of downtime a year. They would be
highly secure and hardened against terrorist and cyberterrorist
attacks, he said.
The idea would
"take our experience from space and bring it to Earth,"
he said. "We believe NASA can provide a very exciting
new view of computing infrastructure for the 21st century
for the federal government."
A small-scale version
of one center will be operational Oct. 15 at the Marshall
Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
The model is a
radical departure from the norm in the computer industry,
where network control, security and support are typically
separate functions, he said.
Security is another
key element to the IT overhaul. To establish the "electronic
identity of people," Strassmann wants to issue smart
cards to NASA employees, contractors and others associated
with the agency. The cards would include a computer chip with
information about the holder.
Much more stringent
security and access control at NASA are essential, he said.
The agency is a constant target of hackers and possesses "enormous
intellectual property assets that [are] the envy of the world"
and must be protected.
The mission control
centers will know when users are on the NASA system and can
disconnect them "in a microsecond," Strassmann said.
One of the first
steps in the IT overhaul will be replacing 10 separate accounting
systems with one, he added.
He rejected tying
together legacy systems and instead plans to convert existing
financial records to a new format for a new, integrated financial
A reliable accounting
system is considered critical to bringing fiscal order to
NASA, where a budget crunch is forcing curtailment of the
space station program and threatening other space missions,
such as sending exploratory craft to a moon of Jupiter and
IT is not a notable
weakness at NASA, according to John Pike, head of Global Security.org,
which monitors space and military programs. But at least one
automated system — finance — needs reform.
a financial management system that can catch million-dollar
cost overruns before they become billion- dollar cost overruns,"
he said. Space station cost overruns of $4 billion "snuck
up on them."
The agency has
"squandered taxpayer dollars on finance systems that
aren't compatible and can't talk to each other," said
Keith Cowing, a former NASA employee who now edits the online
publication NASA Watch.
But creating a
centralized computer system may not improve NASA's efficiency,
he said. "They might spend more time watching people
than doing the job they're supposed to be doing."