Few federal agencies do a better job of capturing the public imagination than NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, which helped a worldwide audience share in the Curiosity Rover's "seven minutes of terror" before landing successfully on Mars. Behind the scenes was the clever use of cloud technology, social media and engineering to transmit real-time images from 150 million miles out in space, all on a tight budget.
JPL's IT team, anticipating Olympic-size audiences, migrated several applications to the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud, including the legacy content management system, the Mars public outreach web sites and the Eyes on the Solar System website. But JPL IT had never implemented video streaming before and did not know how many people would watch the streaming video. At the eleventh hour, it became apparent viewership would be massive, so JPL and AWS put together a cloud-based system capable of handling 80,000 requests per second and that would ultimately stream 150 gigabytes per second and deliver 150 terabytes during the few days of the entry-descent-and-landing event.
At its peak, the websites reached 8 million hits per minute. The cloud enabled a global audience to experience the marvels of Mars at unprecedented speeds; in fact, at the same time JPL scientists did. Because of the cloud architecture, JPL had virtually unlimited computing and storage resources. And as importantly, JPL was able to serve 10 to 100 times more traffic at one-tenth the cost compared to the Mars Exploration Rover landing nine years earlier.