Earth Observing System:

NASA's EOSDIS Development Approach Is Risky

IMTEC-92-24: Published: Feb 25, 1992. Publicly Released: Feb 25, 1992.

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Samuel W. Bowlin
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) development of the Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS), focusing on: (1) EOSDIS use of prototyping to reduce system development costs and risks; (2) the extent to which EOSDIS may require technologies that are beyond the current state of the art; and (3) development strategy weaknesses that could prevent researchers from gaining access to and making optimal use of valuable and costly data.

GAO found that: (1) NASA initiated a collection of prototype projects using existing earth science systems and data to validate its requirements and test the feasibility of key functions prior to contractor development; (2) the prototype projects are typically enhancements to existing systems, do not substantially support validation of key functions, and do not address critical technical feasibility issues; and (3) NASA did not take full advantage of available systems resources and experiences in designing and building its prototypes. GAO also found that: (1) NASA, other organizations, and research scientists believe that EOSDIS cannot reach its ultimate goal of providing ready access to vast amounts of earth science data without several kinds of significant technological advances; (2) experts cited scientific database management software, high-volume data storage and access systems, new techniques for data characterization, and data visualization as critical to the development and success of EOSDIS; and (3) because the NASA development strategy for EOSDIS does not specifically address those key advanced technologies, NASA runs the risk of developing a system that is little better than existing systems.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: NASA does not believe that the EOSDIS contract should be delayed. NASA states that it will develop specific plans for prototyping once the contract is awarded.

    Recommendation: Given the significant technological risks inherent in the EOSDIS concept, the Administrator, NASA, should not award the planned EOSDIS Core System contract until specific plans have been developed and resources identified for: (1) prototyping the full range of critical system elements; and (2) guiding and accelerating research into key advanced technologies that will be essential for the system's ultimate success.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASA has agreed to reexamine its activities and, if necessary, improve relationships with other federal agencies doing global change research. NASA is working with other agencies, especially NOAA, regarding global change-related data systems.

    Recommendation: NASA should work to maximize cooperation with other federal agencies and earth science programs having data system experience in global change-related issues.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration


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