Metadata for Good

Daina Bouquin

  • arXiv
  • AAS Unified Astronomy Thesaurus
  • Software Preservation Network
  • Mozilla Foundation

I’m a librarian


Harvard University + Smithsonian Institution

MS Data Analytics


MS Library & Information Science

metadata for small satellites

Space Act Agreement in progress

Early adopters and collaborators

Funding MetaSat


The relationships between signifiers

and what they stand for in reality.


How we understand what something means.


Vocabulary of a person, language, or branch of knowledge.


(contains the signifiers)


  1. an important, complex assignment.
  2. a strongly felt aim, ambition, or calling.
  3. a body of people who perform a service.

Sometimes all three

  • an important assignment
  • a strongly felt aim, ambition, or calling.
  • a body of people who perform a service.

Mars Climate Orbiter undergoing acoustic testing. (1998). NASA.

September 7, 1999

This is the only image acquired by the Orbiter.


What does this image mean?

Who would I ask?

Will it ever mean something else?



  This image doesn't mean anything on its own. 

We need provenance (context).


We need to know the story about the MCO Mission.
We need to know where this image came from.


People need to be able to learn from it.


Mechanisms for modeling relationships between the information gathered from provenancial sources.


Logical framework where

semantic metadata can be recorded.

Humphrey, S.D. Multiple Exposures of the Moon: Nine Exposures, daguerreotype, 1849.

Earliest image of the moon.


Was the only image of the moon.


Was a technological innovation that started a scientific revolution.


Now it's art.

Galileo's notes.


Was chicken scratch.


Now the birth of observational astronomy and the origin of scientific method.

Galilei, G. (1610). Osservazioni e calcoli relativi ai Pianeti Medicei.

Meaning is collective agreement about a specific thing at a specific time.


Semantic meaning is not static.

You cannot predict all of the nodes in a semantic network

Human readable

metadata is limited

Signifiers mean different things to different people.

We need to “cross walk”
different standards to translate meanings.

Absolute agreement is not possible or desirable.

Meaning needs to be
machine actionable

We need to prevent
mission failures

What is the mission?

Why is there a mission?

Who takes the mission on?

We need to be able to describe the components.


Data. Software. Hardware. People.

Metadata is Not Neutral


Metadata reflects a community's
shared meaning and values.


Don't let other people define these things for you.

Help define the lexicon.


Your contribution matters.

MetaSat: Metadata for Good

By Daina Bouquin

MetaSat: Metadata for Good

Presented at GRCon. Sept. 19, 2019.

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