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:
- 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:
- About the NASA Open Source Summit
- Presentation slides from the Open Source Summit
- Notes on all of the issues discussed
- NASA open source projects
Open Source Summit session video recordings