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Astronomical Data Analysis Software and Systems VII
ASP Conference Series, Vol. 145, 1998
Editors: R. Albrecht, R. N. Hook and H. A. Bushouse

The NOAO Web-based Observing Proposal System

David J. Bell, Jeannette Barnes and Caty Pilachowski
NOAO1, P.O. Box 26732, Tucson, AZ 85726
1National Optical Astronomy Observatories, operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. (AURA) under cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation



A World Wide Web interface to the NOAO observing proposal form is now available. Proposal information is provided by users through a set of HTML forms and submitted to the NOAO server where it is processed by a Perl CGI script. Netscape users may optionally attach locally prepared PostScript figures or ASCII text files for inclusion in their proposals using that browser's file upload feature.

All submitted data is retained on the server so that it may be recovered and modified in later sessions or viewed by collaborators who have shared the proposal password. In addition to the advantages of global availability and interface familiarity, the system provides several other useful options including online verification of LATEX syntax and a spell-checker. Users can retrieve a filled-in copy of the NOAO proposal template by e-mail, or run latex and dvips on the NOAO server, view the output, and submit the proposal online. The NOAO WWW observing proposal pages can be found at ``''.


1. Introduction

Each semester NOAO receives hundreds of requests for observing time in the form of LATEX documents. An automated system for handling these requests by e-mail has been in use for the past four years (see Bell et al. 1996 for a general description of the original system, which has since been rewritten in Perl). Although the system has always been quite successful, several additional enhancements can be achieved through the use of the World Wide Web, including a friendly and familiar user interface with hypertext help and pull-down menus, online verification and processing, and shared access to proposal information by remote collaborators as the document is being prepared.

By interfacing to the existing form, these new features have been added while retaining the most positive benefits of LATEX - authors may still include special symbols, equations, figures and tables in their documents and information needed for scheduling can still be automatically extracted from the submitted proposals (Bell 1997).

2. Discussion

Figure 1: A sample NOAO proposal Web form

The proposal form is divided into six sections, which can be filled out in any order and revisited at any time. Each HTML page contains hidden fields identifying the proposal ID and section in addition to the standard form fields. A single Perl CGI script is called which saves and retrieves form information on the NOAO server and performs all processing requests. The proposal sections are:

The Justification and Figures sections support file upload of ASCII text and PostScript figure files. PostScript bounding boxes are computed for figures and written into the saved files, in addition to optional PostScript commands for rotation.

At any time, the user may choose one of several processing option buttons:

The LATEX proposal built on the Web uses the same template as that used in the traditional download/e-mail approach. Users thus always have the option of mailing the proposal to themselves and finishing it with a text editor and sending it in by e-mail (an ``import'' from the LATEX form to the Web is planned for the next semester). Proposals completed and submitted by either method are indistinguishable when printed.

3. Conclusion

The NOAO Web-based proposal system went public in August 1997 for the submission period concurrent with this meeting. Initial reviews have been quite favorable and few problems were reported. Currently the only significant limiting aspects of the Web form involve PostScript figures. Although most users had no trouble including figures in their documents, sophisticated customized figure placement is not available. In addition, submitting very large figures becomes inefficient if the user wishes to repeatedly download the PostScript proposal for viewing.

We've found that the system scales well with the experience of the user. Those who know nothing about LATEX are largely shielded from it and are more comfortable using the Web than the traditional template form. Meanwhile veteran LATEX users who wish to fill their proposals with special symbols and equations may still do so. Thanks to the online processing and verification, we've found that a much smaller percentage of Web-submitted proposals arrive with problems requiring human attention than those submitted by e-mail. This saves considerable time for the NOAO office staff, as most Web proposals can be automatically filtered for import to observatory databases. User feedback indicates that a substantial time savings in proposal preparation has also been achieved.

Proposal materials at various observatories consist of many types, from simple flat-file templates to sophisticated GUI software tools which each user must download and compile. We've found that the WWW CGI approach described here strikes a good balance by being complex enough to deliver all needed information to the observatory while remaining easy to use.


Bell, D. J., Biemesderfer, C. D., Barnes, J., & Massey, P. 1996, in Astronomical Data Analysis Software and Systems V, ASP Conf. Ser., Vol. 101, eds. G. H. Jacoby and J. Barnes (San Francisco, ASP), 451

Bell, D. J. 1997, in Astronomical Data Analysis Software and Systems VI, ASP Conf. Ser., Vol. 125, eds. Gareth Hunt and H. E. Payne (San Francisco, ASP), 371

© Copyright 1998 Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 390 Ashton Avenue, San Francisco, California 94112, USA

Next: Observing Control at the UKIRT
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