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NASA takes open source into space

NASA has a new Web site devoted to its adoption and contribution of open-source software.

Open-source software has been making inroads into U.S. federal agencies for years, most notably in January when the U.S. Department of Defense set up an internal forge to host open-source software for use by the government.

Now NASA, not to be outdone, has created its own open-source software repository, with a diverse array of software available "as an essential response to the needs of NASA missions."

NASA indicates several purposes for making its software open source:

  • To increase NASA software quality via community peer review.
  • To accelerate software development via community contributions.
  • To maximize the awareness and impact of NASA research.
  • To increase dissemination of NASA software in support of NASA's education mission.

Some of the 23 projects currently listed, like BigView, reflect a developer focus. BigView "allows for interactive panning and zooming of images," but only if you're running Linux on your desktop.

Others, like Livingstone2, have little application beyond NASA, but are very cool all the same. Livingstone2 "is a reusable artificial intelligence (AI) software system designed to assist spacecraft, life support systems, chemical plants or other complex systems in operating robustly with minimal human supervision." I doubt many developers have spacecraft to test the system on, but perhaps the code could be applied to other scenarios?

And that's the point. With open source, as Glyn Moody writes, you don't need to see all potential applications of your code. You just open it up and others decide how they'll reuse it.

NASA open-sources the software to perhaps help it to get to the moon and back. You might have other purposes for it. With open source, your mileage may vary.

Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.