Critical Mass Designs NASA Portal

NEW YORK The National Aeronautics and Space Administration recently introduced a new Web site that serves as a portal for the agency’s nearly 3,000 related sites.

Critical Mass in Chicago and eTouch, a Pasadena, Calif., technology provider, created the Web site (www.nasa.gov). The two companies landed the business late last year following a final review round that included Deloitte & Touche Consulting, Euro RSCG and Raytheon.

“It was a matter of centralizing without eradicating the Web sites,” explained Tyler Niess, vice president of diversified accounts at Critical Mass. To accomplish that task, the i-shop populated the Web site with relevant content that links users to NASA’s other online properties.

The site offers audience-specific information and features for kids, students, educators and the press. One of NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe’s key initiatives is “to inspire the next generation of explorers,” so the site aims to engage children and teenagers with a flash introduction, games, activities and learning resources, said NASA Internet services manager Brian Dunbar.

“The goal of the Critical Mass/NASA team is to enable the Web site to re-ignite the public’s passion for NASA,” said Jerry Johnston, CEO of Calgary-based Critical Mass, which also works for clients like Nike, Mercedes-Benz and Dell.

A rotating banner at the top of the NASA home page delivers some of the latest information from the agency. This week, for instance, the banner encourages users to learn more about the second Mars Exploration Rover, Opportunity, which launched late last night after several delays.

The first version of the redesigned Web site debuted Feb. 1, just hours before the space shuttle Columbia disaster. To deal with the crisis, Critical Mass created a mini-site that provided the most up-to-date information, including crew bios, fact sheets and press releases. The site received 75 million hits that day and 512 million for the month of February, Dunbar reported.

The old site was designed in 1997 by SAIC, an information services contractor. “[The site] just aged and the Internet passed it by,” said Dunbar. “This is trying to get ahead of the curve again.”