ArcNews Online

Spring 2002
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GIS for NASA Facilities Management

Federal GIS logoAt the 2001 NASA Facilities Conference, Jeff Sutton, associate administrator of the NASA Office of Management Systems and Facilities, addressed the need to focus on core functions through master planning. In addition, newly appointed NASA Administrator Shawn O'Keefe has indicated that his policies will adhere to the President's Management Agenda with emphasis on e-Business and information technology. NASA Langley Research Center's (LaRC) response has been to develop a Web-based Facilities Master Plan (FMP) that takes advantage of the latest GIS capabilities.

The FMP is prepared for each NASA center. This document provides a record of existing property as well as a roadmap for future center infrastructure development to support NASA's current and future missions. It includes center strengths, limitations, missions, enterprise requirements, strategic implementation planning, and environmental information. The FMP is to ensure the efficient and effective use of resources supporting center operations and provide a basis for cooperative planning with local and regional communities and other government agencies.

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Building floor plans will continue to be maintained in their native drawing space, but the GIS will store features in geographic space for display and analysis.

Traditionally, the FMP has been published at approximately five-year intervals. At NASA LaRC this has resulted in a document that is often out of date by the time it is published and, therefore, has limited use for planning. The official FMP, published in 1993, and the small-scale Web version completed in 1997, were out of date and technologically behind. The new vision is that the FMP will be updated on a continuous basis. This goal will be and is currently being realized through the use of GIS, specifically ArcSDE, ArcGIS, and ArcIMS software.

The NASA LaRC GIS team has long been the leader in developing new applications and procedures that benefit NASA and many other partner agencies. In September 2001, the team proposed to NASA to revise the current online FMP in order to adopt more recent advances in GIS, databases, and Web applications. The proposal outlines the move from ArcInfo 7.x to ArcSDE.

Robert Gage, a key developer with the GIS team, explains: "The overall vision is to edit and maintain all GIS spatial data using the ArcGIS Desktop applications as multiversioned geodatabase layers stored using Oracle Spatial. By storing our data in Oracle Spatial format, we are able to leverage existing investments in enterprise database technology while adding spatial query capabilities. More complex analysis and map generation is performed using ArcInfo 8.x, while lightweight analysis and map viewing can be provided to all our customers through ArcIMS. Additional plans include transitioning our extensive CAD data resources to ArcSDE using CAD Client, providing a single source for all managed spatial data at the center. One of the primary advantages of using Esri technology has always been its focus on providing highly customizable software, allowing its users to adapt general purpose tools to their needs."

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Relationship of various components of new spatial data management architecture.

The GIS team has used this capability in the ArcGIS product family to create a more efficient and effective environment for editing and managing data. This has been accomplished by developing custom extensions to ArcCatalog and ArcMap and developing custom behavior code using Visual C++ to implement more sophisticated functionality. In addition, the ArcIMS HTML viewer has been extensively modified to provide new functionality and improvements to the user interface.

"The most exciting part of the project has been to take GIS into the facilities maintenance world," says Gage. Building floor plans have been maintained utilizing GIS for several years; however, the nature of these drawings precludes them from being georeferenced. Team members have developed a custom behavior code for ArcGIS that allows these drawings to be maintained in their native drawing space while the appropriate features in each are automatically scaled and rotated and stored as features in geographic space for display and analysis across the center.

NASA Langley, well known for its wind tunnel research and home of the LaRC GIS team, has a very detailed and documented infrastructure. In addition, the center has had extensive GPS field validation. Any Langley databases not currently connected to GIS are readily adaptable, and building and center-level data sets are managed with the same spatial tools with GIS as the backbone, which in turn allows for full integration of data of all levels. So this center is an ideal location to develop the enhancements proposed by the LaRC team.

The proposal has been well-received and is waiting for full funding, but the LaRC team has already been busy making headway on some of the early phases of the proposal, as it is inevitable that changes need to be made. Mary Gainer, GIS analyst with the LaRC team, has been working with team members to convert existing spatial data to a geodatabase to be served to the Web by ArcIMS.

"Once completed, the master plan will serve as the umbrella document for all spatial data at the center," Gainer says. "It is an excellent resource to integrate narratives, relational databases, interactive maps, and spatial query tools all accessible through the Web. The changes will truly make this a living document and essential planning tool." Gainer and the team have enhanced ArcIMS to suit their needs. Two examples of the customization efforts are a PDF output capability and the implementation of a standard ArcIMS template for LaRC.

Most spatial data had been stored as feature coverages with georelational databases. Viewing and analysis were usually done with ArcInfo 7 or ArcView 3.2. The maps were published to the Web using MapObjects. With the work that Gainer has coordinated, the maps are being served to the center by ArcIMS, and the GIS team has upgraded to ArcInfo 8.1 and ArcSDE.

The use of ArcSDE will provide much more flexibility in incorporating data from other systems, creating a true enterprise approach to facilities management. This plan will integrate spatial and Business data, enforce data integrity, and provide enterprisewide accessibility.

For more information, please contact Brad Ball (e-mail: or Mary Gainer (e-mail:

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