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Why NASA Transitioned to WordPress for its Website Redesign

Why NASA Transitioned to WordPress for its Website Redesign

Discover why NASA chose WordPress for its website redesign, enhancing its digital footprint and accessibility to the world. Explore the benefits of this strategic transition.

By Alan P.

NASA, the renowned space agency that has been at the forefront of scientific exploration for over 65 years, recently underwent a significant transformation in its digital landscape. 

The agency decided to bid adieu to Drupal, a content management system (CMS) that had served them well, and embraced WordPress as its new platform of choice. This move was not a spur-of-the-moment decision; it was the culmination of an extensive 18-month-long process that involved active web development, meticulous data migration, and the creation of fresh and compelling content.

The Genesis of the Project

This colossal project was set in motion by a confluence of factors, primarily the IDEA Act and the end-of-life (EOL) status of Drupal 7. The IDEA Act, which emphasizes making federal agency websites more accessible to the public, provided NASA with a timely opportunity to reassess its CMS strategy. 

This was the catalyst for change, and NASA was ready to embark on a journey to modernize its digital presence.

To spearhead this transformative project, NASA teamed up with Lone Rock Point, a WordPress.com VIP Gold Agency Partner. The undertaking began with a year-long focus on user experience (UX) design and an in-depth evaluation of various enterprise CMS options.

The end goal was clear: to support a whopping 456 CMS users, migrate 68,698 pages, and introduce 3,023 new landing pages into the ecosystem. An integral part of this transition was the migration of NASA’s website infrastructure from Amazon Web Services to WordPress.com VIP.

Freedom from Rigid Templates

During the early discovery phases of this project, content authors at NASA expressed a strong desire for a CMS that would liberate them from what they perceived as rigid templates.

Enter Gutenberg, WordPress’s block-based authoring approach. It was the answer to their call for flexibility. User testing provided irrefutable evidence that WordPress could offer this flexibility, and now that the site is live, the diversity of landing pages being created with the block-based approach further validates its efficacy.

The CMS Selection Process

NASA’s decision to switch to WordPress didn’t happen overnight. The agency meticulously evaluated both proprietary and open-source solutions. They embarked on a thorough examination of over a hundred CMS platforms, narrowing down the selection to four finalists, including two commercial options and two open-source contenders: WordPress and Drupal. 

High-level prototyping and user evaluations were conducted for all four CMS choices, and the data generated from these exercises played a pivotal role in the final CMS selection.

WordPress's Winning Factors

What set WordPress apart from the competition? According to J.J. Toothman, President of Lone Rock Point, several factors tipped the scales in WordPress’s favor:
  • Access to Resources: WordPress boasts a vast and active community that consistently pushes the boundaries of what the platform can achieve. The wealth of knowledge and training resources available makes it easy for organizations like NASA to find support, unlike some commercial CMS solutions that often require returning to the original vendor for resources.
  • Plugin Ecosystem: WordPress’s plugin ecosystem is a treasure trove of capabilities, including real-time content analysis for SEO and accessibility. Content can be scrutinized by authors before it’s published, a crucial feature for a high-profile website like NASA’s.
  • Ease of Use: The content authoring environment of WordPress proved to be intuitive and user-friendly, simplifying the content creation process.

Integration and Collaboration

One of the standout achievements of this transition was the integration of the NASA WordPress site with images.nasa.gov, the agency’s image library.

Content authors within the CMS can seamlessly search for images in the library and incorporate them into their content, thanks to an augmentation made to the WordPress media library. This integration was facilitated by Human Made, which had prior experience with commercial digital asset management solutions that NASA was able to leverage.

NASA Goes All In on WordPress' Block Editor

The block editor’s adaptability for authoring landing pages and breaking free from rigid templates was a pivotal factor in NASA’s selection of WordPress as its CMS. To support NASA website authors in sharing their discoveries and stories, Lone Rock Point created 55 custom editor blocks.

However, managing over 400 content authoring/editor users within NASA’s WordPress CMS was not without its challenges. The learning curve was steeper than expected, necessitating robust change management.


NASA’s legacy footprint presents an opportunity to dramatically improve the user experience for the public we serve. Modernizing our main websites from a technology standpoint and streamlining how the public engages with our content online are critical first steps in making our agency’s information more accessible, discoverable, and secure.” – Jeff Seaton, NASA’s chief information officer¹   

Supporting Users

To ensure a smooth transition, NASA implemented hands-on WordPress training and working sessions, allowing users to build pages in real-time alongside support personnel. An online knowledge base was also created to provide readily accessible resources. 

Weekly blogs and newsletters featuring screenshots of pages in progress were instrumental in inspiring users to explore different possibilities with custom blocks. Weekly office hours for managing editors provided a platform for answering questions, conducting live demonstrations, and gathering user feedback.

Unleashing Creativity

Content authors quickly discovered inventive ways to utilize custom Gutenberg editor blocks for design layout options, going beyond their original intentions. This newfound creative freedom breathed new life into the website’s content.

Open Source Contributions

As a testament to their commitment to open source, NASA has decided to open source some of its custom blocks and other project components, giving back to the WordPress community.

Dispelling Myths

NASA’s choice to migrate to WordPress has far-reaching implications. It not only modernizes the agency’s online presence but also challenges long-standing perceptions about WordPress.

For years, there have been misconceptions that WordPress is not enterprise-class and is not a secure CMS. However, NASA’s decision is compelling evidence to the contrary, proving that WordPress is well-suited for enterprise-level projects and can meet stringent security benchmarks.

Conclusion

In conclusion, NASA’s strategic decision to embrace WordPress for its website transformation has not only modernized its digital presence but also shattered misconceptions about the platform. This transition stands as a high-profile testament to WordPress’s adaptability for enterprise-level projects with complex publishing requirements.