Meeting Minutes

How NASA uses a wiki to reduce email

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A brief history

NASA Flight Operations is the group of people who

  • Plan human spaceflight missions
  • Train astronauts
  • Support astronauts during their missions via Mission Control Center (MCC)


This directorate is split into about 20 groups

We're in the Extravehicular Activity (EVA) group

(NASA-speak for "spacewalks")

How We've Always Done It

Mission operations has been evolving

from the 1960s

MCC in the 60s MCC in the 60s MCC in the 60s

to today

Folder Structures

What began as paper folders of typed documents ...

Grew to gigabytes of electronic folders

This led to problems

Directory trees are difficult to search

Multiple copies and versions of documents

  • Which one do I trust?
  • Do I have to update all of them?

Files are easily moved or deleted

The "Wiki Way"

  • Search, don't sort
  • Search content, not just file names
  • A single portal for information
  • Automated revision control
  • Semantic linking

An example

Hardware has many associated details

  • Part #
  • Mass
  • Dimensions

These can be stored as semantic properties

An example

and associated documents and database entries

  • Drawings
  • Schematics
  • Anomaly reports
  • Compatible hardware

These can be automatically linked by part number or hardware name in some cases

Culture Shift

One of the biggest hurdles for the transition to using a wiki is convincing the group to change the way they think

Proof of Concept

We are required to review lesson plans, rules, and documents every 2 years. Since we were already editing and reviewing these documents, we imported that content into the wiki.

Going Semantic

After installing Semantic Mediawiki, the wiki really shed light on issues we had in our current knowledge management system, whether it was identifying holes in our knowledge or identifying conflicting resources of data

We couldn’t find any other software that came close to the power this had in allowing us to interconnect pages and data through the use of queries and properties within the wiki

Critical Mass

Once a critical mass was achieved, a demo was presented to management

There is a double standard for wikis

The wiki makes info easier to access, edit, and share

  • Initially this was viewed as a negative by management
  • Can the wiki be trusted?

There is a double standard for wikis

Sharepoint and share-drive documents were just as vulnerable to revisions or access-control issues

... but the wiki makes it easier to discover disconnects already present in the data and it provides automated version history

Demonstrating Value

To get management buy-in, we had to demonstrate value

The wiki provides a single source for information

The wiki reveals gaps in our knowledge base

This model promotes group ownership of our knowledge base ("Our wiki")


NASA’s Imagery Online Database hosts institutional and mission imagery related to Human Space flight and associated Activities

IO consists of 100,000 videos and over 2 million photos. The imagery Collection is 10 TB and growing.


We wanted a way to incorporate the imagery database without the user leaving the wiki page and also be able to organize the photos in our own way

We built templates and queries to make use of this database. By using the unique NASA photo id# or file name, we can import images into a wiki page.

Image Gallery of EVA Tools

This page makes use of images uploaded to the wiki and images hosted on the IO web site

Image Gallery of EVA Tools

Mission History

We created a page for each ISS and Shuttle mission. In each page, we set semantic properties for each crew member, flight controller, and relevant hardware item.


Mission History

We can then query for data ...

{{#ask: [[Category:Expedition]] 
|? Commander
|sort = Mission start date
|order = asc

Mission History

... and we can elegantly display this data on any page

List of ISS Commanders

Inventory Management

Don Pettit

Inventory Management

NASA uses a parent-child relationship structure to document the location of each item on ISS

Inventory Management

The client interface can be overwhelming

IMS Client

Inventory Management

The web search feature is simpler

IMS Web Search

Inventory Management

But we can tie this data into our wiki

EVA Ratchet

Inventory Management

Input a part number ...

							{{#ims: ABC1234567-123}}
And get results from the server embedded within a wiki page

IMS Output

Meeting Minutes

or ...

How we learned to stop emailing and love the wiki



Email is necessary but abused

Email is good for conversations but a terrible way of storing data

Eliminate email?

We can't completely get rid of email

but maybe we can reduce it

The Meeting Minutes Template

  • Meeting Title
  • Date
  • Time
  • Attendee
  • Links to documents
  • Topics
    • Title
    • Content

The Meeting Minutes Form

Meeting Topics

Meeting Minutes Output

Meeting Minutes

  • Can be entered by anyone
  • Are linkable
  • Are accessible online
  • Can link to wiki article pages
  • Are searchable ... ?

Meeting Minutes

We can do better with one additional property:

Related article [[Has type::Page]]

Related Article

Add any relevant wiki article page name as a related article

Related Article

These show up in the Meeting Minutes output as links

It gets better ...

Related Article

This is our page about the Retractable Equipment Tether

Related Article

In the footer of every page, we list Meeting Minutes where that page was listed as a Related Article

Related Article

Extension:HeaderTabs and a query for meeting topics where the PAGENAME is listed as a Related Article tie information together smartly

Related Article

We use this same technique for hardware manifested on specific flights

Related Article

We can link hardware to flights

Related Article

We can link rules to hardware

Related Article

We can run compound queries

Related Article

This helps identify rules we might have otherwise missed


We have a lot of wiki pages tied together in different ways

  • [[wiki links]]
  • Semantic queries (inline, infobox, and footer)
  • User queries
How can we better ensure our users are aware of pages they might be interested in?

Warrens and Plazas

Brandon Harris (Jorm_WMF) describes wikis as "warren-centric", where each wiki page is its own small, disconnected community

How do we connect these warrens?

The Main Page Plaza

The Main Page Plaza

  • Extension:MasonryMainPage provides auto-sized blocks based on content and browser size
  • Meeting Minutes is the focus
  • Additional blocks provide relevant articles and queries

Meeting Minutes Block

  • Link to form for new minutes
  • Title links to full minutes
  • Topics and synopses

Featured Articles

  • Title links to article
  • Primary image
  • Overview

Current Issues

This simple query lists pages in Category:Current ISS Issue

Upcoming Events

  • Encourages users to contribute to events they are supporting
  • Helps us ensure we are tracking the correct event dates (they change a LOT)
  • Currently only lists vehicles and missions. Eventually will include training and on-orbit activities.

Recent Discussion and Changes

These blocks highlight current discussions and are helpful for users not familiar with the "Recent Changes" page

Proficiency Training

Proficiency training is currently a manual process. With these blocks, users unknowingly get additional proficiency training and review our data.

In the future, we could track click-through of these types of boxes for proficiency training

A New Morning Routine

  • Coffee
  • Meeting Minutes
  • Recent Changes
  • Recent Discussion
  • Watchlist
  • Email

Now email is more focused on discussions and less on "documenting" technical info

The Future

In order to better connect users with unknown pages we can use semantic relations.

If a user watches a page which is linked to another page by semantic properties, we can suggest they watch that page

Main Page blocks could be customized based on the user viewing


Contacts (github / @enterprisemw)