NASA concludes first Open Source Summit, aims to make openness the default


Image credits: NASA; Space shuttle Discovery at the International Space Station over Earth in April 2010
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NASA has been implementing an Open Government Plan for nearly a year, and this week they held the first NASA Open Source Summit in Mountain View, CA. But the roots of open source at NASA go back much further, to its founding legislation in 1958, which designed NASA as a source that would "provide for the widest practicable and appropriate dissemination of information"--a goal perfectly suited to an open approach.

NASA recognizes that the full benefits of open source are only seen when there is a culture supportive of the activities. To that end, the Open Source Summit, also available to remote viewers online, brought together engineers and policy makers to talk about how they could work together to meet the challenges NASA faces in developing, using, and releasing open source software.

Sounds easy enough. But when it's NASA, it's complicated. NASA has its own open source license, which David Wheeler of the Department of Defense described as "incompatible with every other known open source software license." Hence the need for the Summit, which brought together minds from business, science, and open source, including Bob Sutor of IBM, Brian Stevens of Red Hat, Chris Wanstrath of Github, Chris DiBona of Google, and Pascal Finette of Mozilla.

The Summit tackled 23 issues, including:

  • Licensing
  • Barriers to community involvement
  • Limitations to contributing to external projects
  • Open source governance in NASA
  • Public access to code repositories

But they all could be encompassed within the title of issue #11, an ambitious but admirable goal: "How does NASA open source everything?" The largest proposed solutions to that issue:

  • Implement a "default open source duration" on code, based on DiBona's assertion that there is a growing incentive to open everything
  • NASA open source software repositories, which could serve as a compromise to some of the security issues by having an internal NASA repository as well as a public one
  • Openness-as-default, including starting all projects with an open license

"The full benefits of open source can only be achieved if NASA is able to establish the processes, policies and culture needed to encourage and support open source development," said NASA's Chief Technology Officer for Information Technology Chris C. Kemp.

If you missed listening in on the event, notes and slides are available, as well as continuing information for NASA's open source progress:

Open Source Summit session video recordings

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4 Comments

Hugh S. Myers's picture

I and come coding companions used NASA code in the 80s after having been tipped off by the Stone Soup gang (of Fracint fame)--- we were all into high level number crunching and were quite pleased with what we found... Hope it just gets better :)

laurence's picture

I give them credit for calling the right people but until I see something concrete, its all the same BS that falls under the Open umbrella.

Open government is one of those buzz words that makes people break out.
Open is the new Green and everyone wants to be open because they all want to seem in.

As for their licensing scheme, I find it hard to believe that someone could be so clueless as to create an open license but not bother doing 4mins of research BEFORE using it.
We know why Microsoft does it with their licensing, the main goal being its NOT the GPL, anything they do in this field is rarely left up to fate and blamed on not knowing.

So if NASA's intent wasnt to gum things up on the open front, then their people proved themselved incapable of grasping some basic things on licenses.
When you are THAT clueless, you ask others for how its done...
you know, the way they are doing it now.

They are doing the right thing and for that they need to be praised, its the incompetence beforehand that makes me wonder.

I say that because a high school senior who lives in my street was doing a project on free software licenses for a computer class and he did some research and came to see me afterwards. He learned the majority of the things online by himself and I just had to answer a few 'what if's question.
THATS why i find it amazing that NASA's research is weaker than a high schoolers.

But when it comes to FLOSS, better late than never.

The names and companies mentioned means they now have the right mentoring to do this right. Anything that they screw up after that will still fall on them though.

Hugh S. Myers's picture

You may not be impressed and feel entitled to be more than a bit snarky, but I feel it necessary to point out that the time line in my post was in the 80s, long before all of the BS you seem so wrapped up about existed.

patrickleroux.physicist's picture
Newbie

You mean Fun3D for instance will not be reserved only to US Citizen? That was Closeness at its best, one has to admit. Wait and see if this opening happens, we in the ROW have some doubts.
PLR