In a groundbreaking move, NASA has propelled its online presence into the future by revamping its flagship website using WordPress, shedding its beta label and replacing Drupal as the content management system (CMS). The journey involved 18 months of intensive web development, data migration, and content building, resulting in a modernized platform that reflects NASA’s spirit of innovation and discovery over its 65-year legacy.
The multi-million dollar project, spearheaded by Lone Rock Point, a WordPress.com VIP Gold Agency Partner, commenced a few years ago, prompted by the intersection of the IDEA Act and Drupal 7 End-of-Life. This convergence provided NASA with an opportune moment to reassess its CMS choice for nasa.gov. Lone Rock Point took the reins, leading the project through a year of UX (user experience) design and an evaluation of various enterprise CMS options.
The scope of the project was ambitious, supporting 456 CMS users, migrating 68,698 pages, and introducing 3,023 new landing pages. As part of this transformation, NASA’s website infrastructure migrated from an Amazon Web Services environment to WordPress.com VIP.
President of Lone Rock Point, J.J. Toothman, highlighted the significance of WordPress’s block-based authoring approach, particularly the flexibility provided by Gutenberg. The shift from rigid templates allowed content creators to break free and explore innovative storytelling. Toothman noted that this approach delivered on the desires expressed by content authors during the project’s discovery phases.
NASA meticulously evaluated numerous CMS options, both proprietary and open source. From over a hundred contenders, they shortlisted four—two commercial and two open source (WordPress and Drupal). High-level prototyping and user evaluation led them to select WordPress, citing several factors that set it apart.
One key factor was WordPress’s vast community, providing unparalleled access to resources. The plugin ecosystem, especially those offering real-time content analysis in SEO and accessibility, stood out. Additionally, the ease of use of the content authoring environment and the support for real-time content analysis were crucial in NASA’s decision-making process. On a side note these are some of the reasons that I myself chose to use WordPress as well.
The block editor emerged as a game-changer, allowing NASA to create 55 custom editor blocks for crafting landing pages and breaking free from a rigid templating system. Despite the challenges of introducing the block editor to over 400 content authoring/editor users, the project successfully managed the learning curve through hands-on training, working sessions, and an online knowledge base.
Toothman expressed surprise and delight at the creative ways authors utilized custom blocks, showcasing the platform’s adaptability and the community’s innovation. Looking ahead, NASA plans to open source some of its custom blocks and other project components to contribute to the wider WordPress community.
The successful completion of this high-profile project not only underscores NASA’s confidence in WordPress as an enterprise-class CMS but also challenges long-standing perceptions within the broader community. Toothman believes that while NASA’s choice won’t erase pre-existing misconceptions about WordPress, it adds weight to the argument that WordPress is indeed an enterprise-class and secure CMS.
NASA’s leap to WordPress is not just a technological milestone; it’s a testament to the platform’s adaptability, security, and the collaborative strength of its global community. As the cosmos of web development evolves, NASA’s adoption of WordPress sets a precedent for enterprises aiming to reach new heights in their digital journeys.