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Tietronix and NASA

Acquia hosts international website to get kids motivated and moving

When the Education and Outreach division of the NASA Space Life Sciences Directorate at Johnson Space Center needed a website for a new pilot outreach program, they tapped long-time partner Stuart Engelhardt at Tietronix. Having built websites for this group for the last six years, Engelhardt had already researched and chosen Drupal as Tietronix’s content management system of the future.

“We needed to get a multi-lingual website up with more community features than our typical site, and we needed to do it in an eight-month timeframe,” recalls Engelhardt. With the community features native to Drupal, “Mission X: Train Like an Astronaut” was the perfect initial Drupal project for Tietronix.

“Hosting and support services through Acquia minimized the risk of not meeting the deadline in the required eight months. Acquia’s services increased our productivity threefold,” said Stuart Engelhardt, system architect for “Mission X: Train Like an Astronaut,” and vice president and co-founder, Tietronix.

How they did it

The key to the project’s incredible success was Acquia’s Jumpstart training program. The Jumpstart gives organizations the opportunity to work with Drupal experts for team mentoring and development when getting their Drupal project started. Acquia’s US trainers were all committed at the time, so Acquia assigned Robert Douglass, Senior Drupal Advisor for Acquia in Germany to spend a week with Tietronix developers in Houston. Engelhardt recalls, “Having a person physically present, helping us learn how to put all the pieces together really got us going the right way. Acquia’s Jumpstart training allowed the entire team to function at what would normally be the level of only the team leader.”

Robert also encouraged the group to participate in the Houston Drupal community. The week of Robert’s visit coincided with a meetup of the Houston Drupal Users Group, so he gave a brief presentation, and the Tietronix people who joined him made connections there. “Through the relationships we built, we were able to contract for specific needs in a short period of time,” says Engelhardt. “With Robert we also got some neat extras, additional tools from his workflow to show us what others use for solutions.”

By the time Douglass left, the team had a shell in place for the site. They were then able to build the prototypes in 6 weeks rather than the expected six months. The first phase’s goals were completed in 12 weeks rather than the expected eight months, leaving the large amount of remaining time to improve the site further.

The results

The site and program were a smashing success. 4,164 students, ages 9-14, from nine countries formed into teams for the Mission X challenge on January - April, 2011. (Other countries participated as Observing Partners.) The website provided the point structure to enable competition between teams within the countries. Points from all participants combined to successfully walk the mission mascot, Charlie, to the moon, demonstrated by an animated graphic on the site.

Students learned the principles of healthy eating and exercise in the course of training, similar to what astronauts undergo to prepare for a mission. Support materials for the 18 science and exercise modules, in both student and teacher versions, are still available for download from the site, which is currently available in eight languages and provides country-specific information as well as blog posts, videos, and pictures from around the world.

The project was such a success that NASA currently plans to continue it for at least the next two years. Visit trainlikeanastronaut.org to see the site in action. Tietronix is already preparing for the next Mission X, and the current site has more countries, more languages, and more space agencies than ever before.

“With Acquia’s help, the site came in under budget and ahead of schedule,” says Engelhardt. “Now moving forward as an Acquia Partner, we can offer more to our other clients. We have been looking to diversify our client base, and the multi- lingual, accessible websites we can provide with Drupal and Acquia are an important component of our focus package.”

We were confident that by choosing Drupal as a solution, we could achieve our objectives in eight months. With Acquia, we met our goals in 12 weeks and were able to extend and enhance the site’s functionality with the extra time.

Company Information

Software development company
Government, medical devices, workflow systems
72 employees
Drupal user since 2009
Acquia client since 2010
  • 11 space agencies,
  • 12 countries,
  • 7 languages
  • 650 posts, videos and pictures from participants