Planetary Data Ecosystem Elements

  1. Sources of New NASA Data (Other Than Missions)
  2. The Planetary Data System (PDS)
  3. PDS-Equivalent Archives
  4. Physical Facilities
  5. Online Repositories, Registries, and Portals
  6. NASA-Funded Public Communication
  7. NASA-funded K-12 Education Portals
  8. Data Standards
  9. Software


When NASA invited the public to self-nominate for positions on the Planetary Data Ecosystem Independent Review Board, the call provided the following list of “PDE Knowledge Areas”:

  • ADS
  • AstroMat
  • Autoplot
  • DAPs (Data Analysis Program, incl. Cassini DAP, Discovery DAP, New Frontiers DAP, Lunar DAP, and Mars DAP)
  • IPDA
  • JMars
  • JSC Curation online catalogs
  • NASA Github
  • NASA Planetary Github
  • PDART (Planetary Data Archiving, Restoration, and Tools)
  • PDS
  • Planetary Geologic Mapping
  • Planetary Photojournal
  • Quickmap
  • RPIFs


This list provided the kernel of this Appendix. As described in Appendix C, the board significantly expanded the list of PDE elements. The list below still is not comprehensive. It is merely representative of the breadth and diversity of planetary data ecosystem elements. An element not being listed here does not imply that it is less important or valuable than listed elements.

1. Sources of New NASA Data (Other Than Missions)


1.1. DAPs (Data Analysis Program, incl. Cassini DAP, Discovery DAP, New Frontiers DAP, Lunar DAP, and Mars DAP):

Through Data Analysis Programs (DAPs), NASA funds researchers to enhance the scientific return of past missions and to increase the number and diversity of scientists involved in analysis of data. There are distinct Data Analysis Programs for Cassini (CDAP), Discovery missions (DDAP), New Frontiers missions (NFDAP), Lunar missions (LDAP), and Mars missions (MDAP). More are likely to be added in the future.

1.2. PDART (Planetary Data Archiving, Restoration, and Tools)

The Planetary Data Archiving, Restoration, and Tools (PDART) program solicits proposals to generate higher-level data products, archive and restore data sets or products, create or consolidate reference databases, generate new reference information, digitize data, and develop or validate software tools. The objective of this program element is to increase the amount and quality of digital information and data products available for planetary science research and exploration, and to produce tools that would enable or enhance future scientific investigations. Although it is expected that a small amount of data analysis, interpretation, or modeling may be performed to validate any generated products, this program element does not accept proposals in which the main focus is hypothesis-based planetary science. For all types of proposals, the products of selected proposals must be made available to the scientific community. (Source)


2. The Planetary Data System (PDS)

The Planetary Data System (PDS) is a long-term archive of digital data products returned from NASA's planetary missions, and from other kinds of flight and ground-based data acquisitions, including laboratory experiments. The PDS is a federation of nine teams geographically distributed around the U.S. Six are science discipline nodes, focusing on Atmospheres, Geosciences, Cartography and Imaging Sciences, Planetary Plasma Interactions, Ring-Moon Systems, and Small Bodies. There are two support nodes: the Engineering Node, and the Navigation and Ancillary Information Node. The ninth team is the project management group, which includes a project scientist function. (Source)

The PDS enables search and discovery of data via tools, services, and APIs for working with data following the PDS standards. Tools have been submitted from the broad PDS community and multiple institutions, including those from members of the International Planetary Data Alliance (IPDA). The Tools interface allows the user to search for and discover these tools. The interface also allows tool providers to submit their software for inclusion in the registry, but this registry may be out-of-date, and is only as good as the information submitted; it is not curated. Advanced, focused search tools are available from several PDS discipline nodes.

A Data Search function allows the user to search for data based on Target or Mission.

2.1. PDS Nodes

The activities supported at each node of the PDS are broad. Following is a brief description of each node and a few example resources hosted at each.

2.1.1. PDS Atmospheres Node (ATM)

The Planetary Atmospheres Discipline Node of the Planetary Data System (PDS) is responsible for the acquisition, preservation, and distribution of all non-imaging atmospheric data from all NASA planetary missions (excluding Earth observations). ATM also archives ground-based data acquired in support of the planetary missions, as well as preserving data from planetary analog laboratory and field measurements. (Source)

The Atmospheres Node has made special efforts to curate and make available to the PDS user planning materials, references, and useful summaries from several missions. These materials are relevant not only to the study of atmospheres, but to all other disciplines. For example, the Cassini Mission Archive includes mission overviews, objectives, results, and background pages on each of the science instruments, experiments, and mission science domains.

2.1.2. PDS Cartography and Imaging Science Node (CIS, formerly IMG)

The Cartography and Imaging Sciences Discipline Node (formerly known as the “Imaging Node,” IMG) of the PDS is the curator of NASA's primary digital image collections from past, present and future planetary missions. Imaging provides to the NASA planetary science community the digital image archives, ancillary data, sophisticated data search and retrieval tools, and cartographic and technical expertise necessary to develop and fully utilize the vast collection of digital planetary images of many terrestrial planetary bodies, including icy satellites. Imaging science expertise includes orbital and landed camera instrument development and data processing, data engineering and informatics, planetary remote sensing at UV to RADAR wavelengths, and cartographic and geospatial data analysis and product development.

Example resources at CIS include:

  • Photojournal hosts publicly released images and captions from various solar system exploration programs. It includes all planetary science images released from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and some of those released by other NASA centers and NASA researchers.
  • PILOT is an image data portal designed for searching through the raw image archives held by CIS. The catalog differs from other PDS catalogs because it has been improved by characterizing image geometry in great detail. The Image Atlas is a database-driven search tool that provides access to all image products held by CIS.
  • Map Projection on the Web provides users with tools to crop and reproject planetary global cartographic data, perform other types of image analysis, and download the resulting image in the user’s choice of image formats.


2.1.3. PDS Engineering Node (EN)

The Engineering Node (EN) of the PDS provides technical support for all the discipline nodes. The Engineering Node manages the PDS Archiving Standard (PDS4) Information Model, context references, the PDS Central Registry, and provides website search and other technical support for the whole of PDS. Access to the Engineering Node website is limited to PDS staff.

2.1.4. PDS Geosciences Node (GEO)

The Geosciences Discipline Node archives and distributes digital data related to the study of the surfaces and interiors of terrestrial planetary bodies, in particular data acquired from the surfaces of these worlds. The Geosciences Node has developed several data search tools, including:

  • The Analyst’s Notebook is an online tool for exploring planetary data from NASA Mars and lunar landed missions. The Notebook integrates sequence information, engineering and science data, and documentation. Currently, the Analyst’s Notebook includes exploration for Curiosity, InSight, Opportunity and Spirit, Phoenix, LCROSS, and Apollo missions.
  • The Orbital Data Explorer (ODE) is a cross-mission and instrument query, search, display, and download tool for locating and retrieving PDS orbital science archives of Mars, Mercury, Venus, and Earth’s Moon.
  • Spectral libraries (databases of laboratory spectra) contributed by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter CRISM instrument team and the Brown University RELAB laboratory, among others.


2.1.5. PDS Navigation and Ancillary Information Node Facility (NAIF)

NASA's Navigation and Ancillary Information Facility (NAIF) was established at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to lead the design and implementation of the “SPICE” ancillary information system. The letters making up “SPICE” stand for different types of information described in SPICE data: Spacecraft, ephemerides (Planet), Instrument, orientation (C-matrix), and Event information. SPICE is used throughout the life cycle of NASA planetary science missions to help scientists and engineers design missions, plan scientific observations, analyze science data, and conduct various engineering functions associated with flight projects. In addition, as the “ancillary data node” of NASA's Planetary Data System (PDS), the NAIF Team leads the peer review of, and archives, the SPICE ancillary data products produced by NASA planetary flight projects. The NAIF node provides mechanisms for public access to these archived products. For example:

  • The SPICE Toolkit consists of application program interfaces (APIs) that customers incorporate in their own application programs to read the SPICE ancillary data files and, using those data, compute derived observation such as altitude, latitude/longitude, and lighting angles, and to also determine various kinds of solar system events.
  • The WebGeocalc (WGC) tool provides a web-based graphical user interface to many of the observation geometry computations available from the SPICE system. A WGC user can perform SPICE computations without the need to write a program; the user needs only a computer with a standard web browser.
  • The Cosmographia Mission Visualization Tool is a SPICE-enhanced version of the open source visualization tool named Cosmographia. This interactive tool produces 3D visualizations of planet ephemerides, sizes and shapes; spacecraft trajectories and orientations; and instrument fields-of-view and footprints.


2.1.6. PDS Planetary Plasma Interactions Node (PPI)

The Planetary Plasma Interactions (PPI) Node of the Planetary Data System (PDS) archives and distributes digital data related to the study of the interaction between the solar wind and planetary winds with planetary magnetospheres, ionospheres and surfaces. The PPI Node is located at the Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

2.1.7. PDS Ring-Moon Systems Node (RMS)

The Ring-Moon Systems Discipline Node (RMS) is devoted to archiving, cataloging, and distributing scientific data sets relevant to planetary ring systems, planetary moons, and the ways they interact. Because images of rings and moons provide important context to other types of measurements, there is substantial overlap among the holdings of the RMS and CIS nodes for outer-planets missions.

The Ring-Moon Systems Node is particularly dedicated to open science and to improving data accessibility and usability by a wide variety of potential users. They provide online tools for computing and visualizing the complex dynamics of ring-moon systems; share open-source software via Github; and produce higher-level versions of PDS-archived data sets from completed missions, such as a calibrated and geometrically corrected version of the Voyager data set. The Outer Planets Unified Search (OPUS) is the primary search tool for this node. The RMS Node generates geometric metadata above and beyond that archived by missions, enabling searches that include bodies fortuitously included in images targeted at other bodies, or searches by ring system geometry.

2.1.8. PDS Small Bodies Node (SBN)

The Small Bodies Node (SBN) specializes in archiving, cataloging, and distributing scientific data sets relevant to asteroids, comets, and interplanetary dust. Specifically, the SBN archives data from space missions (primarily NASA, but also from other national agencies) that target small bodies or that have collected small bodies data, laboratory and ground-based data collected in support of small bodies missions as well as contributed ground-based observations, and collected information about small bodies from published literature. All of the MPC's operating funds come from a NASA Near-Earth Object Observations program grant. There are several subnodes:

  • The Comet Subnode is located at the University of Maryland, in College Park, Maryland. In addition to maintaining the combined archives of the SBN and supporting the SBN website, the Comet subnode collects, formats, verifies, and consults on data sets concerned with comet observations. The subnode also provides support for active comet missions and observing campaigns.
  • The Asteroid/Dust Subnode is located at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona. The Asteroid subnode collects, formats, verifies and reviews ground-based and mission data pertaining to asteroids, transneptunian objects, small planetary satellites and interplanetary dust.
  • The Minor Planet Center (MPC) is the single worldwide location for receipt and distribution of positional measurements of minor planets, comets, and outer irregular natural satellites of the major planets. The MPC is responsible for the identification, designation, and orbit computation for all of these objects. The MPC operates at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, under the auspices of Division F of the International Astronomical Union (IAU).


3. PDS-Equivalent Archives

Through a series of updates to the call for proposals to the PDART program, NASA has defined what it means for a data archive to be “PDS-equivalent.” Such archives must be:

  • Independent: managed by someone other than the major data provider.
  • Sustainable: managed for the long term (25 years at least).
  • Open access: accessible to the public (lay and scientific) without pre-approval.
  • Searchable.
  • Citable.
  • Preeminent: considered by its user community as the “standard” archive for the subfield.
  • Standardized: data products must be provided in standardized formats and file types.


In addition, it is desirable for PDS-equivalent archives to provide peer review and documentation (user guides, calibration descriptions, etc.) for the data they hold.

The following are some (by no means all) examples of PDS-Equivalent archives.

3.1. Center for NEO Studies (CNEOS)

The JPL Center for NEO Studies (CNEOS) computes high-precision orbits for Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) in support of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office. These orbit solutions are used to predict NEO close approaches to Earth and to produce comprehensive assessments of NEO impact probabilities over the next century.

CNEOS supports observers through the JPL HORIZONS high-precision ephemeris computation capability. HORIZONS is provided by the Solar System Dynamics (SSD) Group of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

CNEOS provides access to continually updated calculations of orbital parameters, close approaches, impact risks, discovery statistics, and mission designs via its website, with a data page for every NEO, and to user scripts through an API.

Parameters are archived in the JPL Small-Body DataBase (SBDB), which can be searched using a highly configurable filtering tool.

3.2. HIgh-resolution TRANsmission molecular absorption database (HITRAN)

HIgh-resolution TRANsmission molecular absorption database (HITRAN) is a compilation of spectroscopic parameters that a variety of computer codes use to predict and simulate the transmission and emission of light in the atmosphere. The database is a long-running project started by the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratories (AFCRL) in the late 1960s in response to the need for detailed knowledge of the infrared properties of the atmosphere. The HITRAN compilation, and its associated database HITEMP (high-temperature spectroscopic absorption parameters), are developed and maintained at the Atomic and Molecular Physics Division, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

3.3. Infrared Science Archive (IRSA)

Caltech’s Infrared Science Archive (IRSA) is chartered to curate the science products of infrared and submillimeter astrophysics missions led by NASA or with NASA involvement. Data of interest to planetary scientists have been collected by a number of these missions. IRSA serves the raw and pipeline-processed data associated with these missions, as well as enhanced data products contributed by the community. IRSA also curates data from large-area infrared surveys that are actively mined to yield discoveries in planetary science. In the future, IRSA will be the archive for data collected by the NEO Surveyor mission, implemented by the Planetary Defense Coordination Office.

IRSA’s Guide for Solar System Observers introduces planetary scientists to relevant data sets and tools, including IRSA’s “precovery” services, which allow researchers to mine data sets for serendipitous observations of near-earth objects (NEOs).

3.4. Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST)

The Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST) provides a variety of astronomical data sets focused on the optical, near-infrared, and infrared parts of the spectrum, including data from Hubble, TESS, Kepler, other NASA astrophysical spacecraft, shuttle astrophysics instruments, user- contributed High Level Science Products, and some ground-based observatories such as Pan- STARRS. In the 2020s MAST will host data from the James Webb Space Telescope and the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope. MAST offers a variety of search tools including search forms, APIs (including Virtual Observatory protocols), graphical exploration interfaces, a website for running SQL queries, and more.

3.5. NASA Planetary Geologic Mapping Program

The Astrogeology Science Center at the United States Geological Survey (USGS), based in Flagstaff, Arizona, coordinates the NASA Planetary Geologic Mapping Program. USGS map coordination is provided under the auspices of NASA's Planetary Cartography and Geologic Mapping Working Group and its Geologic Mapping Subcommittee. The maps produced through this program are published as part of the USGS Special Investigation Map (SIM) series. These maps are archived in the USGS publication repository that meets all Federal requirements for longevity, discoverability and accessibility.

3.6. NASA Space Science Data Coordinated Archive (NSSDCA)

The NASA Space Science Data Coordinated Archive (NSSDCA) serves as the permanent archive for NASA space science mission data. “Space science” includes astronomy and astrophysics, solar and space plasma physics, and planetary and lunar science. As the permanent (or “deep”) archive, NSSDCA serves a distinct purpose from NASA's discipline-specific space science “active archives,” such as the PDS. NSSDCA’s collections include hard-copy data and documentation that has not yet been digitized and may not be available elsewhere, including information from NASA’s earliest missions. NSSDCA also serves as NASA's permanent archive for space physics mission data.

Web-based services allow the NSSDCA to support the general public with information about spacecraft, science instruments, solar system object physical and orbital data, and access to digital versions of selected imagery. NSSDCA’s online services also provide information about data archived at NSSDCA (and, in some cases, other facilities) that is not available online. NSSDCA is part of the Solar System Exploration Data Services Office (SSEDSO) in the Solar System Exploration Division at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. NSSDCA is sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of NASA's Science Mission Directorate. NSSDCA acts in concert with various NASA discipline data systems in providing certain data and services.

3.7. NASA Science and Technical Information Program

The NASA Science and Technical Information program hosts the Research Access Initiative, part of the agency’s framework for increasing public access to scientific publications and digital scientific data. The STI site hosts access to the PubSpace repository, where all NASA-funded authors and co- authors (both civil servant and non-civil servant) are required to deposit copies of peer-reviewed scientific publications and associated data. That data is shared via the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) PubMed Central (PMC) system.

3.8. Space Physics Data Facility (SPDF)

The Space Physics Data Facility (SPDF) is the NASA active and permanent archive for non-solar heliophysics data (solar data at SDAC), per the NASA Heliophysics Science Data Management Policy. SPDF is a project of the Heliophysics Science Division (HSD) at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. SPDF also provides multi-project, cross-disciplinary access to data to enable correlative and collaborative research across discipline and mission boundaries with present and past missions. SPDF maintains the SSCweb database of spacecraft orbits, the OMNIweb cross- normalized database, and the Common Data Format (CDF) self-describing science data format and associated software. Also the CDAWeb, the Coordinated Data Analysis (Workshop) Web, supports interactive plotting of variables from multiple instruments on multiple investigations simultaneously on arbitrary, user-defined time-scales. It also supports data retrieval in both CDF or ASCII format. Considered PDS-equivalent.


4. Physical Facilities

Note that most physical facilities provide at least some of their data collections in digital format.

4.1. NASA Center Archives

Most (though not all) NASA centers have physical archives. An example NASA Center Archives is the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Archives. Different from libraries, the primary mission of archives is to document the rich organizational, mission, and cultural histories of the institution by identifying, collecting, preserving, and making available primary source materials that have long-term value for research by users at the institution and the wider public. Archives provide research assistance, including assistance with locating historical records and answering questions related to the institution’s projects and activities. Some materials are cleared for public release. Physical visits are by appointment and application only.

4.2. NASA Regional Planetary Image Facilities (RPIFs)

The NASA Regional Planetary Image Facilities were an international system of planetary image libraries established in 1977. In 2019, the NASA History Office reviewed all of the unique content of the nine US RPIFs, and a report was provided in April 2020 of high priority items requested by NASA to be digitized. At the same time, funding for the RPIFs was discontinued. Many, though not all, of the home institutions have plans to maintain at least some of their collections and resources for public access.

These facilities maintain photographic and digital data as well as mission documentation and cartographic data. Each facility's general holding contains images and maps of planets and their satellites taken by solar system exploration spacecraft. These planetary image facilities are open to the public. Although there is some overlap among their collections, most RPIF collections vary from institution to institution, reflecting the expertise of researchers at the host institutions. In fact, each RPIF node hosts its own unique collection of data accumulated by planetary scientists in their region, as well as rescued mission and research data sets and literature) from departed investigators or closed centers. Experienced staff can assist scientists, educators, students, media, and the public in ordering materials for their own use.

The RPIF nodes have worked to digitize many of their unique document holdings and place them online at their individual institution websites as funding allows, transforming themselves from libraries of hard-copy material to planetary data utilization service and training centers.

As of 2020, the following RPIF nodes were active:

  • The JPL Regional Planetary Image Facility, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Caltech, Pasadena, CA
  • The LPI Regional Planetary Image Facility, Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston, TX
  • The NASA/USGS Astrogeology Regional Planetary Information Facility (RPIF), Flagstaff, AZ
  • The Northeast Regional Planetary Data Center, Brown University, Providence, RI
  • The Pacific Regional Planetary Data Center, Hawaiʻi Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa
  • The Ronald Greeley Center for Planetary Studies, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
  • The Smithsonian Regional Planetary Image Facility, Center for Earth and Planetary Studies
  • (CEPS) at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC
  • The Space Imagery Center, Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
  • The Spacecraft Planetary Image Facility, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
  • And 7 international locations


4.3. Spectroscopy Laboratories

There are many spectroscopy laboratories across the country that are available for in-person use by NASA-funded researchers and which host digital databases of reference spectra for materials relevant to planetary science studies. Following is a non-exhaustive list:

  • RELAB (Keck/NASA Reflectance Experiment Laboratory), a multi-user spectroscopy facility hosted by Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island
  • The Thermal Infrared Spectral Laboratory and Mineral Library at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona includes observations of terrestrial rock and mineral samples for comparison with the spectra of Mars returned by thermal emission spectrometers and also for interpreting remote sensing data collected with Earth as the target. 
  • The USGS Spectroscopy Laboratory hosts a spectral library of thousands of lab measurements to facilitate laboratory and field spectroscopy and remote sensing for identifying and mapping minerals, vegetation, and manufactured materials. 


4.4. The Astromaterials Acquisition and Curation Office at Johnson Space Center (JSC)

The Astromaterials Acquisition and Curation Office at Johnson Space Center (JSC), part of the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science (ARES) Division of NASA, is responsible for the curation of extraterrestrial samples from NASA's past and future sample return missions. Their mission includes the documentation, preservation and preparation of samples from the Moon, asteroids, comets, solar wind, and the planet Mars. Their highest priority is to secure the future availability of these samples for the worldwide scientific community. This office sponsors two programs:

  • Lunar and Meteorite disk that make samples available for use (2 weeks loan period) by K-12 educational institutions.
  • Linear Petrographic Thin Section Designed for colleges and universities offering a curriculum in the geosciences. The petrographic thin section package is intended for use in college and university courses in petrology and microscopic petrography for advanced geology students.


5. Online Repositories, Registries, and Portals

Many facilities provide search and browse access to PDS as well as non-PDS data. Data and metadata vary widely in quality, discoverability, accessibility, interoperability, and permanence.

5.1. Astromaterials Data Repository (AstroRepo or AstroMat)

The Astromaterials Data Repository is based on EarthChem Library. AstroMat invites contributions of a broad range of extraterrestrial data, including but not limited to: compositional data for samples of lunar rocks, meteorites, minerals, melt and fluid inclusions, and more; geochemical synthesis data sets; geochronological data; petrographic descriptions of samples; kinetic data from geochemical and petrological experiments. They provide data templates to assist the efficiency of data set publication, and require data sets to meet guidelines for inclusion.

5.2. Astrophysics Data System (ADS)

The SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS) is a digital library portal for researchers in astronomy and physics, operated by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) under a NASA grant. The ADS maintains three bibliographic databases containing more than 13 million records covering publications in Astronomy and Astrophysics, Physics, and the arXiv e-prints. Abstracts and full-text of major astronomy and physics publications are indexed and searchable. ADS tracks citations and usage of its records to provide advanced discovery and evaluation capabilities. Integrated in its databases, the ADS provides access and pointers to a wealth of external resources, including electronic articles available from publisher’s websites, astronomical object information, data catalogs and data sets hosted by external archives.

5.3. Institutional Repositories

Many research institutions have established repositories to provide public access to data from publications by institution scientists -- a local solution to the need for repositories for science data. A few examples:

  • Center for Earth and Planetary Studies (CEPS)
  • JHU Applied Physics Laboratory Data Repository
  • USRA Houston Repository
NASA Astrobiology Environments Database (AHED)

The NASA Astrobiology Environments Database is a new NASA-funded database, with a pilot study planned in early 2021 and full release early 2022.The Astrobiology Habitable Environments Database (AHED) is a long-term repository and productivity platform for the storage, discovery and analysis of data relevant to the field of astrobiology. AHED is built around an astrobiology specific standardized metadata framework (called ARMS – Astrobiology Resource Metadata Standard). The AHED Portal provides a web-based home to the project allowing new and returning users to create new ARMS compliant data sets and search for relevant data sets using a range of search tools designed around the needs of astrobiologists.

5.4. NASA Exoplanet Archive

The NASA Exoplanet Archive is an online astronomical exoplanet and stellar catalog and data service that collates and cross-correlates astronomical data and information on exoplanets and their host stars, and provides tools to work with these data. The archive is dedicated to collecting and serving important public data sets involved in the search for and characterization of extrasolar planets and their host stars. These data include stellar parameters (such as positions, magnitudes, and temperatures), exoplanet parameters (such as masses and orbital parameters) and discovery/characterization data (such as published radial velocity curves, photometric light curves, images, and spectra).

5.5. NASA Open Data and Software Portal is NASA's clearinghouse site for open-data provided to the public, listing thousands of data sets. Some listed data sets link to resources available from other NASA data archives and repositories, while other data sets only exist on

5.6. Scientific Journals

Various journals that publish planetary science results act as informal archives by providing access to data underlying published figures, machine-readable data tables, etc. Many members within the community use journals as their primary long-term archive, but the sufficiency of these archives can vary between journals.


6. NASA-Funded Public Communication

NASA’s public communication efforts are designed to serve three primary audiences: the general public, educators, and news media. All three are served through NASA’s websites at Products include press releases, captioned images and videos, mission blogs, press kits, fact sheets, explainers, classroom resources, webinars for educators, lesson plans, laboratory activities, museum and planetarium resources, “museum in a box”, and much more. The following is only a partial list with examples of the kinds of public engagement activities that NASA supports.

6.1. Active Mission Websites

While NASA missions are active, they are funded at the mission level by NASA to do public engagement, sharing information primarily via mission websites but also a variety of other pathways. Each mission takes a unique approach to public engagement. Some are hosted at NASA centers, others at the home institution of a principal investigator. Once funding for a mission has ended, so does active public engagement. Mission websites are often left in their final state as a legacy of the mission and are not guaranteed to remain live or functional over time.

6.2. Raw Images Websites for Active NASA Missions

Many NASA planetary missions have an automated pipeline that converts image data to accessible formats (e.g. JPEG or PNG) and serves them on the Web for the public to follow daily mission activities. The availability of these archives has inspired the development of fan communities surrounding the missions. As of March 2021 currently active planetary mission raw images websites include Curiosity, InSight, Juno, and Perseverance. The Perseverance raw images website includes metadata in JSON format that has inspired a community of volunteer software developers to create unique image browse tools. Many Heliophysics and Earth science missions also share images immediately with the public.

Past planetary missions that shared raw images in this way include the Mars Exploration Rovers, Cassini, Phoenix, Dawn, and New Horizons. A few of these, notably Juno but also Cassini, invited visitors to submit processed versions of raw images to the websites to be shared with the public.

6.3. Instrument-Specific Websites

Many science instruments, especially those on flagship missions, perform public engagement and outreach out of their home institutions, providing access to science data as well as derived products and interpreted data on team websites. Because mission data management plans do not cover public engagement activities, funding and support for these websites usually cease with the end of a mission, though the websites often remain available for some time after end of mission. A few examples of these are listed below.

  • High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter: HiRISE science data is available through the PDS. The HiRISE website also provides captioned images, slides, audio, and video (HiClips), intended for anyone, especially educators, to use as part a discussion, presentation, or class units about Mars. The BeautifulMars Project coordinates worldwide volunteer translators of these materials, allowing HiRISE to offer educational resources in 28 languages, which is the most of any active NASA mission.
  • Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera: The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) Science Operations Center (SOC) team website provides a variety of browse and search tools for PDS-archived LROC data through a web portal. One such tool is Lunaserv Global Explorer, a Web Map Service (WMS) implementation for the Moon. The LROC team website also provides many “featured images” with captions explaining science interpretations and exploration history, browsable through the proprietary QuickMap spatial interface.


6.4. NASA Photo Galleries

See NASA Photo Galleries for a long list of scattered photo galleries hosted at a variety of locations, some of them on NASA websites, others on commercial websites like Flickr.

6.5. News Media Information

Press releases, press kits, photos, videos, etc. are posted on mission websites and NASA’s main website. Many of these materials are selected for preservation in National Archives and/or Center archives. Materials older than the Internet are often not available on the Internet and therefore not readily available to the public.

6.6. Science Nuggets

Each of the Assessment Groups that provides community advice to NASA produces “science nuggets” summarizing recent developments in planetary science (e.g. the Small Bodies Assessment Group)

6.7. Treks

Solar System Treks are online, browser-based portals that allow you to visualize, explore, and analyze the surfaces of other worlds using real data returned from a growing fleet of spacecraft. You can view the worlds through the eyes of many different instruments, pilot real-time 3D flyovers above mountains and into craters, and conduct measurements of surface features. The portals provide exciting capabilities for mission planning, planetary science, and public outreach.


7. NASA-funded K-12 Education Portals

Educational resources provide planetary information, press releases, derived data products, and raw data for educators to bolster state- and district-wide curricula. Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) provide rubrics for a phased approach to teaching science at all levels and can utilize introductory space and Earth science materials, data to support graphing and plot reading skills, and raw data for classroom demonstrations and independent research (science fairs and advanced college credit) by the time students begin to enter undergraduate college programs.

7.1. Challenger Centers for Space Science Education

Created in the aftermath of the Challenger shuttle accident, the crew’s families came together to create the Challenger Center for Space Science Education to carry on the legacy of their loved ones by continuing their educational mission. The Challenger Learning Centers are a global network of space-themed simulated learning centers that use role-playing strategies to help students bring their classroom studies to life, cultivating skills for future success, such as problem solving, critical thinking, communication and teamwork.

A Non-profit educational organization for engaging students and teachers in dynamic, hands-on exploration and discovery opportunities that strengthen knowledge in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), inspiring students to pursue careers in these fields, and providing an outlet to learn and apply important life skills. There are ~40 centers across the United States, one in Canada, and one in South Korea.

Recent activities have included student-led simulated exploration missions to the Moon, Mars, and Europa that use NASA planetary data from recent missions and revolve around Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) goals.

7.2. NASA Kids’ Club

NASA Kids’ Club is a safe place for children to play as they learn about NASA and its missions. The site provides games at various skill levels for children pre-K through grade 4. The games support national educational standards in STEM. NASA Kids’ Club Picture Show is an image gallery of some of NASA’s coolest and most interesting pictures. The site is focused on children but is used by parents and teachers to provide a gateway into space science for pre-K through grade 4.

7.3. NASA Science Space Place

Launched in 1998, NASA Space Place's mission is to inspire and enrich upper-elementary-aged kids' learning of space and Earth science online through fun games, hands-on activities, informative articles and engaging short videos. With material in both English and Spanish and resources for parents and teachers, NASA Space Place has something for everyone.

7.4. NASA STEM Engagement

Resource site for students and educators, with STEM resources organized by grade level and links to NASA Education resources.


8. Data Standards


8.1. PDS Data standards

When the NASA PDS began to archive data, relevant standards were generally absent. As such, the PDS undertook the Herculean task of establishing the first widely used standards for planetary data. While initially focused on NASA missions, many other space agencies leveraged PDS standards for their own mission products. This became more formal through the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS) where NASA is one of the 11 member agencies, along with 29 observer agencies and has become a coordinated international effort through the International Planetary Data Alliance. Along with becoming an internationally accepted standard, the most recent PDS standard (PDS4) makes significant attempts to be compatible with other data standards, especially those used for terrestrial remote sensing and astronomy. The PDS Data Standard Reference Guide can be found at: PDS Data Standard Reference Guide.

8.2. Examples of other relevant data standards

Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) The FGDC standards were developed in order to assure that geospatial data produced at the Federal, State, and local levels were all interoperable. Federal agencies are required to follow FGDC standards and many other organizations follow suit. In recent years there has been a strong push to align FGDC standards with those of the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) and ISO. The PDS3 format did not conform to FGDC but PDS4’s geospatial metadata is based on FGDC.

International Organization for Standardization (ISO)  As its name indicates, ISO exists to establish standards that are accepted internationally for a full range of products, ranging from how ropes are spooled to the definition of JPEG image standards. It is an independent, non-governmental organization, but its members include 165 national standards bodies such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Conforming to ISO standards is generally considered the most reliable way to assure compatibility across national borders. Most planetary data, including PDS products, are not directly following ISO standards. However, as PDS follows FGDC other standards that are moving into alignment with ISO, the standards are drawing closer over time.

International Astronomical Union (IAU)  The IAU is the internationally recognized body for setting the names of astronomical bodies and related information (such as coordinate systems). Given the range of unusual objects in the cosmos, the IAU often provides room for some flexibility by publishing “recommendations” rather than strict dictates. Overall, there is a strong emphasis on providing consistency between past published work and new studies but major changes that overturn decades of precedence are not unknown. The PDS has a long-standing requirement that PDS-archived data must conform to IAU standards (including recommendations).


9. Software

The following is a very incomplete list, intended to provide a few examples of the variety of software in the PDE.

9.1. Advanced Multi-Mission Operations System (AMMOS)

The Advanced Multi-Mission Operations System, or AMMOS, is a set of mission operations and data processing capabilities for robotic missions through an ‘Ops in a Box’ approach. AMMOS is a low- cost, highly reliable system utilized by more than 50 missions, including planetary exploration, deep space, earth science, heliophysics, and astrophysics, by NASA, ESA, industry, and academia.

9.2. Autoplot

An interactive browser for data on the web; give it a URL or the name of a file on your computer and it tries to create a sensible plot of the contents in the file. Autoplot was developed to allow quick and interactive browsing of data and metadata files that are often encountered on the web. It was developed under the NASA Virtual Observatories for Heliophysics program in a collaborative effort among several institutions, including support or code contributions from ViRBO, VMO, RBSP-ECT, and the Radio and Plasma Wave Group at The University of Iowa.

9.3. Integrated System for Imagers and Spectrometers (ISIS)


9.4. JMars


9.5. Small Body Mapping Tool

Spacecraft missions return massive amounts of valuable data, but those data can be hard to access, analyze, and interpret. Asteroids, comets, and small moons present additional challenges: the irregular shapes of these bodies are ill-suited for two-dimensional projections. The Small Body Mapping Tool (SBMT) addresses these challenges. The SBMT is an interactive tool that allows users to visualize and manipulate small body shape models in three dimensions. The Tool enables quick and easy searches for spacecraft data of a variety of small bodies. Once selected, data can be projected directly onto the shape models, and built-in analysis and mapping capabilities facilitate scientific investigations.