DNS snafu delays user access to space Web site

Sen. John Glenn’s
participation in the recent shuttle flight prompted NASA to upgrade its Web service.


A NASA error in listing the Domain Name System for a Web site hosting information about
the John Glenn space shuttle mission temporarily barred access to the site.


“As we were trying to upload content, we noticed something was not working
right,” said Kelly Humphries, assistant for operations in the public affairs office
at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.


Either a NASA employee or contractor typed in the wrong DNS listing to InterNIC, the
Internet network information center run by Network Solutions Inc. of Herndon, Va., that
registers names for DNS. NASA noticed the error the morning of the launch and resubmitted
the correct DNS listing, Humphries said.


Users still may have had trouble logging on to the NASA Web site the first day of the
STS-95 mission because the new DNS listing had not propagated, or filtered through servers
on the Internet, Humphries said.


NASA signed an agreement with PSINet of Herndon, Va., two days prior to launch to host
the Web site for the Glenn mission and two missions for the international space station
later this year.


“It was clear to us our current Internet service provider could not handle the
traffic to the site,” said Humphries, in reference to the public’s interest in
Glenn’s return to space.


NASA searched for a provider to handle the connectivity for the Web site and was
approached by PSINet, which said it would host the site for free.


The two parties negotiated the deal, and, in the speeded process, some formalities were
overlooked, Humphries said. “It was a NASA responsibility,” she said.


Despite the glitch, the site at http://shuttle.nasa.gov
received more than 29 million hits between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on the day of the
launch. “We had pretty good hits to the site,” Humphries said.


PSINet anticipated landing the NASA work two weeks prior to launch and began preparing
to host the site with help from Hewlett-Packard Co., F5 Labs of Seattle and Network
Appliance Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., said Michael Mael, PSINet’s vice president of
applications and Web services.


The company migrated content using an IP over frame relay link from NASA’s servers
in Houston to servers in Herndon and Santa Clara. Several HP 9000 Enterprise servers and
one HP 9000 R-Class server support the Web site in both locations, Mael said.


The company used F5 Labs’ BIG/ip Server Array Controller Solutions and 3DNS WAN
High Availability System to balance the server loads. It also used Network
Appliance’s NetCache C630s, a caching technology that speeds visitor response times,
Mael said.


The company handled 300 Mbps of data throughput for the Web site for the nine-day
mission.


“We felt we had adequate server space and bandwidth to host the site,” Mael
said.   

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