Open-Source Space


As I write this, NASA has just passed another milestone in releasing its work to the Open Source community. A press release came out announcing the release on April 10, 2014, of a new catalog of NASA software that is available as open source. This new catalog includes both older software that was previously available, along with new software being released for the first time. The kinds of items available include project management systems, design tools, data handling and image processing. In this article, I take a quick look at some of the cool code available.

The main Web site is at This main page is a central portal for accessing all of the technology available to be transferred to the public. This includes patents, as well as software.

Figure 1. The main technology transfer site is a portal to provide access to everything NASA has to offer.

As a quick start, there is a subject cloud in the lower central region of the page that can do a search on several different keywords for you. Unfortunately, this is only a catalog of all the offerings, and it's not quite complete yet in terms of detailed information. So, for example, if you click on Command Control, you will be taken to a results page that includes items like Rendezvous and Proximity Operations Program (RPOP). If you click on that, you will be taken to a details page that is essentially unpopulated. The assumption is that this will be filled in as time allows in the future. It does give you a list of what is available though, which is half the battle.

Figure 2. The results page on a search will give you a list of software and patents that are available from NASA.

Staying on the result list page, you should notice that there is the name of a NASA center on the right-hand side of each line. This is the actual source for the given patent or software entry. Once you find something of interest, you can go to the individual center's Web site to find more details about it. On the lower-right section of the main page of the NASA technology site, you can find direct links to the technology sections for each of the individual centers. The amount of information available at each of these centers varies, but you should be able to find out more details. Some of the sites have direct download links, so you can get the software that interests you. In other cases, sites provide only the contact details for a person you'll need to talk to in order to get copies of the software in question. A PDF catalog also is available on the front page of the main technology site. Here, you can get a 172-page catalog of all of the available software, broken down into 15 categories, for off-line access.

One issue that will become evident right away is that not everyone can access all of the available software. Some of the released software is available only to US residents, and some is even more restricted to only parts of the US government. So, is there an easier option for the international community? On the front page, there is a set of other useful NASA links on the lower-left side. The one labeled NASA Open Source Software ( will take you to a sister site that provides access to a more centralized repository of software released as open source. It is laid out as a list of available code within a WordPress blog, and it looks like it's being updated regularly. So, it's worth keeping an eye on this site for future releases.

Figure 3. Software released under open source is available at this blog.


Joey Bernard has a background in both physics and computer science. This serves him well in his day job as a computational research consultant at the University of New Brunswick. He also teaches computational physics and parallel programming.