NASA's images from the Apollo moon landings, the Voyager planetary flybys and the many space shuttle missions will be accessible through a central, searchable website under a partnership between the space agency and the nonprofit Internet Archive.
The archive will spend millions of dollars to consolidate images that are already in digital form and to convert those that are not.
"The big payoff on this will be getting the terrific materials that are basically in the space centres up and available on the internet," said Brewster Kahle, the archive's founder and digital librarian. "They are still images, different forms of film and video tapes over the years. The idea is to get it all online."
Well, not all. Kahle said the archive won't be able to digitize everything NASA has ever produced but will try to capture the images of broadest interest to historians, scholars, students, filmmakers and space enthusiasts.
Kahle said the images already in digital form represent the minority of NASA's collections, and they are scattered among 3,000 websites operated by the space agency. He said those sites would continue to exist; the archive would keep copies on its own servers to provide a single, free site to augment the NASA sites.
"It's sometimes a little difficult to find things you might want to use for a school report or a news program," Kahle said.
Besides images, the archive may also include audio files, printed documents, computer presentations and other material deemed historically significant.
The Internet Archive is bearing all of the costs, and Kahle said fundraising has just started. The five-year agreement is non-exclusive, meaning NASA is free to make similar deals with others to further digitize its collections.
The announcement comes as Google Inc. separately incorporated NASA and other space images into its free Google Earth mapping software.