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NASA plans to open source its code in a searchable database

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Been meaning to build a replica of that robot you saw working with astronauts on the International Space Station? You soon might be able to: NASA will reveal a catalog on April 10 that lists where to find the software for more than 1,000 projects, Wired reported Thursday. The space agency will follow up shortly after with a searchable database.

The catalog will include the code for past NASA projects that span robots, climate simulators and rocket guidance systems (many of which are likely to be very, very outdated), according to Wired. DARPA posted a similar catalog earlier this year. NASA will also start hosting the code online by next year; while all the code is free of copyright, people will need special clearance to get their hands-on projects like the rocket guidance system.

Many of the projects are already available online, but they are spread out across many sites and difficult to find. One of the main purposes of NASA is to develop technology that can be transferred to other industries, but it is difficult to transfer technology if no one knows where to find the details.

“Our design software has been used to make everything from guitars to roller coasters to Cadillacs,” Technology Transfer Program executive David Lockney told Wired. “Scheduling software that keeps the Hubble Space Telescope operations straight has been used for scheduling MRIs at busy hospitals and as control algorithms for online dating services.”

The new code database is the result of a 2011 order from President Barack Obama that federal agencies increase the pace of technology transfer. Lockney told Wired that he would not be surprised to see many more projects added to the database after its release.


23 Responses to “NASA plans to open source its code in a searchable database”

  1. Marian Edson

    NASA has always been about sharing its knowledge, technologies, and knowledge. From handheld cutter to remove accident victims from wrecked vehicles to a laser vision product—enhanced by the telescope innovations—to measure a patient’s eye and create a map for treatment.. Why is it so hard to get funding for an organization that offers so much to us and the economy?

  2. Peter Tabb

    Does this mean better technology for the accuracy of shooting down drones? Where are the security aspects? Oh yeh… that is being created by the HHS Department.

  3. Bob Saget

    Need some pessimistic paranoia in your life? Check out the comments section of any given article! Here’s an excerpt of the exciting things you might read: “the US sucks”, “the government is spying on us”, and the classic “*insert insult* Obama”.

  4. Hi,
    Whatever is happening is part of Technology advancement and betterment for the Society.
    Let us accept the changing environment and
    adopt the updates day by day..

  5. Bonnie Huval

    Historically, things developed for NASA’s civilian space program have been required to be made available to the public marketplace–not necessarily free of charge, but available.

    Software from the space program used to be kept and shipped by a university in Georgia, back in the ‘old days’ before it was so easy for everybody to go online and download it. Some of it came with source code and some didn’t.

    In the early 1990s a major pharmaceutical company I was on contract with needed a little bit of expert systems software. At the time expert systems and artificial intelligence was bleeding edge, exotic and expensive. I went through the NASA catalog, selected an AI engine and got it through the mail from the university on the storage media of my choice for a pittance. The price was basically only what it had cost the university to provide the service.

    NASA sharing software (and other inventions) with the public is not new. But when the Web became pervasive, the way the software used to be shared became obsolete. I am glad to see distribution of the software getting centralized again because that makes it easier to browse the NASA catalog for something a project can use.

    But I repeat, the concept is not new, only the way it is administered. The source code you could get from NASA 20 years ago through the university wasn’t called ‘open source’ because that term wasn’t in use yet. It was a rose that hadn’t been named yet. And people like me have been quietly applying it to help Earth-bound projects for years.

  6. I can’t imagine that much of the code is usable since it is highly dependant on specific sensor and actuator connections… they better reference a schematic or one will have NO IDEA what is being read or controlled !!

  7. Charles Nicol

    Why not force the users of the code to share their code enhancements?
    They are missing a huge opportunity to make space architecture open source as it should be considering in the blink of a cosmic eye our evolution will depend on space exploitation.

  8. my only problem with this is that it should require the licensee be a US company, or some other restriction as an entry point. so we are taking taxpayer funded projects and allowing the world to benefit from our hard-earned money? the fleecing of US IP oversees continues.