How cloud enables NASA's top IT priorities

If the Trump administration scales back NASA's climate observation work and pushes forward on a mission to the red planet and possibly a return to the moon, the agency may be in for a busy few years.  -- even as it continues to innovate and embrace new technologies.

Those changes, though, won’t necessarily stop the space agency’s move toward the cloud or its push to innovate and embrace new technologies. In fact, while there have been recent challenges within the agency, particularly concerning cybersecurity, expect NASA to continue its role as a standard-bearer for new technologies within federal IT.

NASA already has four clear IT priorities:

Cloud: At NASA, it’s not just storing information in the cloud or placing public-facing websites in public cloud environments. It’s really about moving application and product development into a cloud-based platform. It’s ensuring that agile and DevOps environments can live in the cloud and provide a collaborative platform so that employees can create the next Saturn V rocket or uncover the next foundational scientific discovery. Having workloads living in the cloud will allow employees at different NASA centers to work together on projects because NASA believes that crowdsourcing work leads to more beneficial results.

Big data and analytics: Few agencies deal with as much data as NASA, but  the idea is all about making smart data out of big data. Using advanced analytics and deep learning technologies, the agency wants to transform how its 17,500 employees work. Understanding human behavior is the key to transforming the workplace of the future and NASA understands that better than most.

Another important use for big data and analytics tools could also come into play if climate monitoring funding is shifted towards space exploration. NASA’s climate observation satellites frequently need to be steered around space junk, which numbers hundreds of thousands of pieces. If the new administration cuts the size of the workforce monitoring these satellites, NASA could turn to big data tools to make more accurate predictions around which satellites need to be moved and when, which could lessen the burden on a smaller staff.

Cybersecurity: This is an area of technology that has put NASA in the news quite a bit lately. NASA’s inspector general just released a report that many of the cloud systems used throughout the agency aren’t FedRAMP-certified, posing a security risk. NASA will be looking for cybersecurity solutions that can address these challenges, particularly in securing cloud offerings that aren’t FedRAMP-certified.

Internet of things: This technology is emerging across NASA, and more broadly across government. Right now, NASA is standing up an IoT lab based at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, but various IoT implementations have already begun across the agency. Sensors can be found within data centers, engineering labs and random facilities that monitor everything from temperature and humidity to the proper functioning of engines and systems. Expect to see growing demand for IoT devices within NASA as the agency looks to streamline efficiencies in support of new manned missions into space.

NASA is a particularly exciting agency to work with and its mission is one of the most important for the future of scientific discovery. While certain operations may be targeted by the new administration, particularly within the science mission directorate that focuses on climatic studies, funding at NASA should remain relatively stable.

About the Author

Tom O’Keefe is a consultant with immixGroup, an Arrow company, which helps technology companies do business with the government. Tom focuses on civilian agencies, as well as public sector enterprise mobility. He can be reached at, or connect with him on LinkedIn at


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