NASA has officially unveiled its revamped website, marking a shift from Drupal to WordPress as its content management system (CMS). After an extensive 18-month process of web development, data migration, and content creation, NASA’s new website has shed its beta label and emerged as a modernised platform, showcasing the agency’s 65-year legacy of innovation and discovery.
The Multimillion Dollar Project Takes Flight
The multimillion-dollar project took root several years ago when the convergence of the IDEA Act and Drupal 7 End-of-Life prompted NASA to reevaluate its CMS options for nasa.gov. Leading the charge was Lone Rock Point, a WordPress.com VIP Gold Agency Partner, which spearheaded the project’s year-long UX design phase and the evaluation of various enterprise CMS solutions.
The project’s scale was immense, supporting 456 CMS users, migrating 68,698 pages, and introducing 3,023 new landing pages. As part of this transformation, NASA’s website infrastructure transitioned from Amazon Web Services to WordPress.com VIP.
The Selection Process: Why WordPress Stood Out
The president of Lone Rock Point, J.J. Toothman, emphasised that content authors played a pivotal role in selecting a CMS that allowed them to break free from rigid templates.
“The block-based authoring approach of Gutenberg is delivering on that, and user testing showed that WordPress could provide that,” Toothman stated.
NASA conducted an extensive evaluation of both proprietary and open-source CMS solutions, ultimately narrowing down the options to four CMS platforms. High-level prototyping and user evaluations were carried out for all finalists, with WordPress emerging as the standout choice.
According to Toothman, what set WordPress apart was the vast and active community, which made it easier for NASA to find support and resources; the plugin ecosystem; and the ease of use.
Transitioning to the Block Editor
Integrating the NASA WordPress site with NASA’s image library at images.nasa.gov is one example of WordPress’s capabilities. Content authors can seamlessly search for and include images in their content, thanks to an enhancement made to the WordPress media library.
NASA’s decision to embrace the WordPress block editor was pivotal to the project. Lone Rock Point developed 55 custom editor blocks to empower NASA website authors to share discoveries and stories. However, transitioning over 400 content authoring and editor users to the new CMS was not without its challenges. The learning curve was steeper than anticipated, necessitating change management efforts.
“To encourage the user community as they learned the new CMS, we created weekly blogs and newsletters that featured screenshots of pages in progress,” Toothman stated.
“By creating an environment that invites discussion, collaboration, and creativity, the content team was able to enforce content quality control standards on a massive scale while delivering a high-quality end-user experience,” he further explained.
Giving Back to the Community
In a generous move, NASA plans to open-source some of its custom blocks and other project components to contribute to the WordPress community.
The successful completion of this high-profile project serves as a testament to NASA’s confidence in the block editor and WordPress’s adaptability for enterprise-level projects with complex publishing requirements.
It is further evidence to support the fact that WordPress is enterprise-class and that it can meet security benchmarks,” Toothman remarked.
This transformation not only modernises NASA’s digital presence but also underscores the capabilities of WordPress as a reliable and secure CMS for large-scale endeavours.