Open Space

There are more than a few of us who would be overjoyed to see Open Source take over the world. For the geeks at NASA, though, the world is not enough.

Open Source is nothing new for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration — Linux Journal looked at Linux use in NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratories way back in May 2000. The Open Source wonder runs its Colombia supercomputer, and will even power mans return to the moon.

In order to coordinate its extensive use of Open Source, the space agency now has its own repo, complete with Open Source-licensed code for many of its projects. There are some esoteric options among the available projects, including the Mission Simulation ToolKit, which helps "facilitate the development of autonomous planetary robotic missions" — something most of us do on a daily basis, of course. Other items are much more down to earth, so to speak:

  • Mesh, "a secure, lightweight grid middleware that is based on the addition of a single sign-on capability to the built-in public key authentication mechanism of SSH using system call interposition,"
  • CODE, "a software framework for control and observation in distributed environments," and
  • SWIM, NASA's Software Information Metacatalog, which "gathers detailed information about the software components and packages installed on each grid resource."

One can also find BigView, which provides "interactive panning and zooming of images of arbitrary size on desktop PCs" — desktop PCs running Linux, that is. And then there is World View, NASA's Google-Earth-on-steroids, which can "zoom from satellite altitude into any place on Earth, leveraging high resolution LandSat imagery and SRTM elevation data to experience Earth in visually rich 3D, just as if they were really there" — as well as for the Moon, Mars, Venus, Jupiter, and the rest of the universe. (Sadly, WorldView is Windows-only at present, though the World Wind Java SDK is multi-platform.)

According to NASA, the motivation behind providing its Open Source repository is fourfold:

  • 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

It's refreshing to see this level of commitment to Open Source from such an important — and highly-visible — government agency. With Open Source in government receiving a significant push, including the recent formation of the Open Source for America coalition, NASA stands as a shining example of how Open Source in the public sector should work.

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