NASA's Astronomical Data Center to Close

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                       A D C  E l e c t r o n i c  N e w s

                              Published by the
                          Astronomical Data Center
                      NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
                        Greenbelt, Maryland, U.S.A.

                              Volume 11, Issue 3
                                September 2002



   + Introduction
   + Notice of the Closure of the ADC
   + The Early History of the ADC
   + The Technical Legacy of the ADC

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Subscribers to this newsletter should have already heard the news. Funding 
for the ADC and its activities has been eliminated by NASA.  As a result, 
the ADC will close as of October 1, 2002.  This ends 25 years of service by 
the Data Center.  For the immediate future, the ADC's Web site will remain 
open, but with no further updates expected.  Links to other organizations 
that offer services similar to those of the ADC will be posted on the ADC 
home page at

This will, therefore, be the last issue of this newsletter.  If you'll 
allow me to inject a personal note, I'd like to say that it's been a privilege
to be a member of the staff of the ADC.  I've enjoyed the associations with 
coworkers and the interactions with colleagues and users through the years.  
The pending close of the Astronomical Data Center has brought a flood of	
memories of those times back again.

The announcement of the termination of the ADC is included in this issue.  
As this is the last newsletter, as well as the 25th anniversary of the ADC, 
I thought it fitting to take a bit of a look back at the Center. In 1997, 
Jaylee Mead wrote an article on the early days at ADC.  It is reprinted here.  
I've included an article that recounts a few highlights from the technical 
efforts of the ADC throughout its history, lest those accomplishments be 

On behalf of the staff of the ADC, thanks for your support and our best 
wishes to you all.

- James E. Gass (Raytheon ITSS), Editor

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                       Notice of the Closure of the ADC
                         James L. Green (NASA's GSFC)

NASA has determined that ADC services sufficiently overlap those provided by 
CDS and others to allow termination of the ADC.  Therefore, effective 
immediately, NASA will route ADC users to the other sites that now perform 
these same services. We apologize if this causes you any inconvenience.

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                         The Early History of the ADC
                       Jaylee Mead (Founder of the ADC)

(Reprinted from the July 1997 issue of the ADC Electronic News)

Goddard Space Flight Center's Astronomical Data Center was built on
developments made by astronomers who were forward-looking in anticipating the
future needs of the field, particularly considering the requirements of space
astronomy.  As early as 1959, when I joined NASA, the agency was working with
the Naval Research Laboratory to develop a computerized approach to the
calibration of the Minitrack System for use in tracking the earliest
satellites.  This involved devising a method for computerized plate reductions
using star catalog coverage of the entire sky.  At that time only 14 small
star catalogs were machine-readable.  Astronomers at the US Naval Observatory
and Yale Observatory were cooperating in key-punching of positional data for
250,000 additional stars from the Yale Zone and AGK2 catalogs.  At Goddard we
put this data on 9-track magnetic tape and wrote the software to provide
automated plate reductions.  Sixteen 12-inch tapes were required to load in
all the stellar data!

This experience in the 1960's provided a logical basis for applications needed
by upcoming space missions, such as the Orbiting Astronomical Observatory, the
Goddard Experiment Package (which failed to reach orbit), and IUE.  Additional
astronomical catalogs were made machine-readable for use in these and later
missions, primarily for planning observations, preparation of finding charts,
telescope pointing requirements and later identification of field stars.

By the early 1970's astronomers in other countries were also foreseeing the
need for computerized stellar and galactic databases.  The French government
was among the most farsighted when they announced in 1970 plans to establish
the Strasbourg Stellar Data Center.  The Goddard ADC has had strong
cooperative ties with the French center since that time, when we exchanged
copies of all of our machine-readable catalogs, a practice which continues

Many people contributed to the ADC in the early years.  Among those who made
the most significant inputs through hands-on efforts, funding, advice or other
encouragement are William Cahill, Ray and Julie Duncombe, Dorrit Hoffleit,
Theresa Nagy, Wayne Warren, Carlos Jaschek, Nancy Roman, Anne Underhill, Al
Boggess, Gart Westerhout, and Jim Vette.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

                       The Technical Legacy of the ADC
                       James E. Gass (Raytheon ITSS)

Throughout its 25 year existence, the ADC's mission was to support 
ongoing scientific research by providing computer-ready catalogs and 
journal tables to NASA projects and individual researchers. As an integral 
part of that mission, the ADC staff worked to improve the methods, 
technologies, and tools for ingesting and distributing such data. The history 
of the ADC shows that it was much more than a mere library of digital data 
sets.  The efforts of the ADC have steadily improved access to and the 
usefulness of the published astronomical data.

In the beginning, many useful catalogs were only available in printed 
form.  ADC staffers worked to acquire or prepare digital versions of these 
works.  For the most comprehensive catalogs, ADC personnel developed new 
cross-index catalogs to make the job of intercomparing the data on similar
catalogs easier.

In the 1980's and beyond, individuals from the ADC and its parent 
organization contributed to the development of the FITS standard.  In the 
years that followed, some of these same individuals established and maintained 
the FITS Support Office, a clearinghouse for documents, software, and test 
data for users of FITS.

In 1991 Lee Brotzman, Susan Gessner, and Jaylee Mead produced the first 
in a series of CD-ROMs containing selected astronomical catalogs.  Their 
goal was to use this medium to make the most useful catalogs available 
in an easily portable form for use off-line. Other members of the staff 
produced three more volumes in this popular series, the last in 1997.  
In total, more than 9,200 copies of these CD-ROMs were distributed to 
astronomers world-wide.

Through their involvement with the STudy of Electronic Literature 
for Astronomical Research (STELAR), members of the ADC and its parent 
organization, the ADF, were among the first in NASA to develop 
information access sites on the brand new World Wide Web, including 
the first NASA-wide home page in 1993.  It is not surprising then, 
that by 1994, the ADC had established its Web site as the preferred 
way for users to access its data holdings.

In 1994, Francois Ochsenbein of CDS developed a new documentation format
for catalogs and journal tables that was more concise and maintainable
than previous documents developed at CDS and ADC.  This approach offered 
numerous advantages over the older journal article-style documentation.  
Francois collaborated with N. Paul Kuin of ADC to standardize this new 
documentation format. Internally known as the ReadMe, this flat ASCII 
document format is, with minor refinements, still in use 8 years later.

Since 1998, the ADC staff worked to apply the new XML technologies 
to the task of making tabular and other scientific data computer-readable, 
well documented, and readily searchable.  The team defined document type 
definitions for both ADC tabular data and our eXtensible Data Format (XDF) 
for most scientific data types.  This XML project evolved with the emerging 
XML and supporting standards.  By the time of the closure of the ADC, more 
than one third of the ADC's archived collection had been converted to XML 
format.  Public access to these data was established with an initial set of 
Web-based services offering enhanced search and retrieval.

As an major part of the ADC's XML effort, the staff developed an 
experimental pipeline to demonstrate the automatic preparation of 
computer-ready datasets in XML format directly from the University of 
Chicago Press' internal SGML format for ApJ, AJ, and PASP journal tables.  
Runs of this pipeline successfully demonstrated that this approach can be 
used to make much more of the published data readily usable with modest 
human intervention for quality assurance purposes.

In recent years, members of the ADC staff participated in the fledgling 
National Virtual Observatory effort. They contributed the experience gained 
in making the ADC's services interoperate with those of other astronomy 
data providers and their knowledge of emerging information technologies.

All the past members of the ADC staff can take pride in their 
accomplishments over the years.  The steady growth in the use of the ADC 
and its services is proof of the success of their efforts.

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Due to the closure of the ADC, no future issues of this newsletter 
are anticipated. Should there be further events of direct interest to 
current ADC users, the subscription list for this newsletter may be used 
to inform you of those events. Few, if any, such announcements are likely 
to be e-mailed.

If you would like to be removed from this list send E-mail to and in the body of the 
message put in the command


Questions or comments on the closure of the Astronomical Data Center can 
be sent to

Space Science Data Operations Office
Code 630
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Greenbelt, Maryland 20771 USA


This Web page is maintained by Selden Ball at Wilson Lab.
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