Tool helps track shuttle contractors

Tool helps track shuttle contractors

Ronald Phelps said Insight helps NASA make sure contractors conduct pre-flight checks correctly.

The folks at NASA's Kennedy Space Center must pay excruciating attention to detail to prepare a reusable spacecraft for launch.

For example, the center's Shuttle Processing Directorate scrutinizes the orbiter's maneuvering systems, reaction control systems, payload, airborne support equipment and thermal protection system.

Keeping abreast of so many details is a challenge. But the NASA center uses Insight, a Web reporting and data collection system, to monitor the status of the launch preparation effort. The system also keeps tabs on the performance of contractors working for NASA.

'We decided to go for the system in 1997, when the government was downsizing and turning more work to contractors,' said Ronald L. Phelps, a project manager at the Kennedy Space Center.

The government wanted engineers to develop new programs rather than focus on procedural matters, Phelps said. The shift made it critical for the directorate to ensure that contractors conducted preflight checks'done previously by staff'correctly.

'The main thing was that we needed a complete product suite that would be a reporting tool and would also do data collection, conversion and analysis,' Phelps said.

Insight reports a set of metrics daily for analysis by engineers, he said.

The directorate also needed a system that could connect to a variety of databases on different operating systems and provide data in a variety of formats.

NASA used tools from Information Builders Inc. of New York to construct the system with help from the company's consultants.

Insight uses Information Builders' WebFocus 4.2 and 4.3 to generate reports, EDA 4.2 and 4.3.5 to format and transfer data, Copy Manager 4.3.1 to convert data, Smart Mode 4.3 to monitor data use, and Site Analyzer 4.3 to evaluate system performance.

Four phases, four years

The agency has been using Insight since early 2000. It has spent about $1 million on it since 1997, when Information Builders and the directorate began developing it in four phases.

In 1997, the directorate established an implementation team, did the initial deployment of the software and developed preliminary reports to stimulate users' thoughts on metric and report development, Phelps said.

For five months in 1998, the directorate developed automated metric reports and posted them online. The system was linked to vendor databases, and users were trained to generate reports.

In 1999, the directorate added more contractor databases. Since last year, it has redefined the metric report requirements and added program management capabilities and accounting requirements, Phelps said.

'We now use it as an engineering tool, not just as a report generation tool,' he said.

This year, the agency upgraded the Insight production server from a Dell PowerEdge 6100 to a PowerEdge 2500 and the development server from a Dell OptiPlex to a Compaq ProLiant 1600. The integration server is a Dell OptiPlex GXPro.

'We have completed our strategic planning effort, which determines how we can leverage Insight technology to support knowledge management efforts within Shuttle Processing,' Phelps said.

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