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NASA Prepares to Open Source Code 330

comforteagle writes "According to this story at O'Reilly, NASA is looking for approval for their own open source license. The NASA submitter (lawyer of course) states that none of the current licenses meet their needs, but more interesting is that NASA needs a license at all. It makes one wonder what we, and other space agencies, might see coming out off NASA. It's also nice to see code that taxpayers paid for anyway being released for their use too. There must be at least one slashdotter who could dream up a use for NASA software. X Prize participants maybe?"
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NASA Prepares to Open Source Code

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  • by The Snowman ( 116231 ) * on Thursday February 12, 2004 @10:40PM (#8265753)

    I thought all goverment programs were automatically uncopyrighted, not even public domain? Like they were completely outside of the copyright system.

    • by hcetSJ ( 672210 ) on Thursday February 12, 2004 @10:49PM (#8265831)
      But I'm sure there are some private contractors somewhere along the line, and so what about their software?
      • by djcinsb ( 169909 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @12:41AM (#8266615) Homepage
        But I'm sure there are some private contractors somewhere along the line, and so what about their software?

        That is exactly the point here. I'm working as a contractor on one of the pieces of software that started this effort. Basically, we'd like to release the software as open source so that we can get universities and others involved in the project, but still retain some level of control over it (and get some free publicity at the same time).

        The goal isn't to keep others out of the process -- it's to get others involved, while making sure the final software product is of high quality. After all, if the software you're building is being used to fly spacecraft, you want to be sure it gives accurate answers.
        • I'm a consultant working as a contractor for NASA. I've been involved in writing two pieces of code we use here which were based on open-source tools. I'd like to give these back to the community, since they helped us, and I think are generally useful: one's an "SSL VPN" (reverse proxy into intranet web and SMB fileshares, in Java); the other's a Web GUI front end for adminning a qmail-ldap mail cluster, in PHP.

          I'm having a heck of a time finding what NASA's position is on giving the code away. Issues

      • That's why many contractors develop their software under their own R&D efforts and sell the government the analysis work that they do with the code, or rights to use the code while maintaining the copyright themselves.

        I've been involved with several contracts where we (largish aerospace firm) were concerned about that if we developed code under contract to the government ultimately we'd be giving that code away to our competitors. So unless the original government request-for-proposal said that they
    • by overshoot ( 39700 ) on Thursday February 12, 2004 @10:49PM (#8265835)
      The problem is the code written for the Government. Arguably, we should have access to it since we paid for it, but the authors have the copyright. Thus NASA's need for a special written-by-Government-contract-but-licensed-to-the -world license.
      • by UnderScan ( 470605 ) <> on Thursday February 12, 2004 @11:08PM (#8265971)
        Not necessarily so, if the coding was done as a "work made for hire". If made, researched, wrote, composed etc. as a work made for hire, you essentially renouce your copyrights to the employer.
        From Section 201, Copyright Act of 1976
        (a) Copyright in a work protected under this title vests initially in the author or authors of the work. The authors of a joint work are co-owners of copyright in the work.

        (b) In the case of a work made for hire, the employer or other person for whom the work was prepared is considered the author for purposes of this title, and, unless the parties have expressly agreed otherwise in a written instrument signed by them, owns all of the rights comprised in the copyright.
      • IIRC, some of the old DEC PDP-8 operating systems were either public domain or copyright free because thay had been written for the government. Certainly they were free to the end user. I never saw source code, don't know on what terms that would have been available, but as was the practice in those days it probably came for the cost of a tape plus a handling charge. I am sure some other older people out there will remember. That was not true on later PDP-8s with floppy drives, which used a proprietary DEC
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 12, 2004 @11:06PM (#8265946)
      You are basicaly correct.

      U.S. Code Title 17 Chapter 1 Section 101:
      A "work of the United States Government" is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person's official duties.
      and from Section 105:
      Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government, but the United States Government is not precluded from receiving and holding copyrights transferred to it by assignment, bequest, or otherwise.
      Although I will say that NASA seems to act like it owns the copyright on the images it produces.
      • by JimDabell ( 42870 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @05:30AM (#8267769) Homepage

        Although I will say that NASA seems to act like it owns the copyright on the images it produces.

        It seems to be pretty clear to me: []

        Photographs are not protected by copyright unless noted. If copyrighted, permission should be obtained from the copyright owner prior to use. If not copyrighted, photographs may be reproduced and distributed without further permission from NASA. If a recognizable person appears in a photograph, use for commercial purposes may infringe a right of privacy or publicity and permission should be obtained from the recognizable person.

    • loopholes (Score:3, Funny)

      by SHEENmaster ( 581283 )
      yeah, but the loopholes are so large that NASA fell through without anyone realizing it.
    • by Anne_Nonymous ( 313852 ) on Thursday February 12, 2004 @11:29PM (#8266119) Homepage Journal
      Yup. Just go the NSA website and download your own copy of Echelon, citizen!
      • I just downloaded the NSA's version of the Linux 2.6 Kernal, which they are distributing freely as a highly secure Linux. (Truth). Next time I'm there, I'll have to see if they've posted Echelon's source code.
    • by Sepodati ( 746220 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @12:04AM (#8266389) Homepage
      They are public domain unless there are security reasons to not release the code. I just went through this with a program I wrote for DOD. Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), you can request the source code to any program. Not saying they'll approve it, but unless there are "national security" type reasons, they should. In order for me to get a copy of my program to continue to develop and distribute on my own, I had to do a FOIA request on myself. :)

      ---John Holmes...
  • Absolutely (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BWJones ( 18351 ) * on Thursday February 12, 2004 @10:40PM (#8265754) Homepage Journal
    There must be at least one slashdotter who could dream up a use for NASA software.

    Absolutely there is. I can think of a number of potential applications of NASA image processing software to our research in neuroscience. Right now, we are having to either purchase code written for the GIS markets to do what we want, custom write routines in a language such as IDL, or get some computer science graduate students to work for us custom creating code. We are doing the first two and I am going to start recruiting CS grad. students next week, but things might go a lot faster if we already had a source code base to start with.

    • by corian ( 34925 ) on Thursday February 12, 2004 @10:54PM (#8265876)
      It might also be very beneficial to go through the code and clearly label which values are imperial measurements and which are metric.
      • by mog007 ( 677810 ) <Mog007@g[ ] ['mai' in gap]> on Thursday February 12, 2004 @11:37PM (#8266188)
        That's easy:

        void mars_lander()
        int dist;

        dist = to_ground(position,z); /* dist = dist * .3048
        * let's see what happens when we comment the
        * conversion!
        / /* Someone please uncomment that before we compile... --Tim*/

      • by Kirth ( 183 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @05:26AM (#8267760) Homepage
        Its all metric. At least its _supposed_ to be all metric. NASA employees using imperial measurements are to be deported to Leeds/England where they may assume a position at a pub in order to exercise their right of using imperial measurements in describing quantities of beer. "Well, I used to work as rocket scientist at NASA, but since they don't calculate fuel in pints they sent me here".
    • Re:Absolutely (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Ieshan ( 409693 )
      Just wondering, have you seen Laurent Itti's code? Neat stuff.

    • Re:Absolutely (Score:3, Interesting)

      Instead of "dreaming up a use for NASA software," I'd getting a pretty damn big thrill out of fixing bugs in NASA software. Heck, this could overcome Linux in a few years.
    • Re:Absolutely (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 13, 2004 @12:11AM (#8266431)
      Hey, for all of you out there who are in this position...

      Please contact a NASA center and start asking around about doing joint research. NASA has a lot of research funding that requires joint work with a university, but you've got to hook up with the right researcher to get it. Every NASA center has an office that will help you find the people most likely to help you.

      Believe me, if you need that image processing code and you are a university, a joint research agreement will get you a lot of help. If you need some other kind of code, and you think NASA has it, start calling around! It may be a bit of work, but you'll be surprised how eager many NASA researchers are to work with you.

    • Re:Absolutely (Score:5, Insightful)

      by K8Fan ( 37875 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @12:30AM (#8266550) Journal

      Personally, I really, really really want and need the famed VISAR (Video Image Stabilization and Registration) software. This was used recently by to improve the quality in the security camera video in the recent abduction and murder of Carlie Brucia [].

      "Commercialized by Intergraph"? Where's my check from Intergraph then? If it was developed with tax dollars, it should be open sourced so it can be commercialized (or not) by everyone. That will have the most salutary effect on the economy - not one, but dozens of companies improving the quality of video.

    • There must be at least one slashdotter who could dream up a use for NASA software.

      My first reaction was along the lines of "hunh?? Is he kidding"

      I could easily see a lot of interesting things coming out of NASA labs and projects...

      • the rover autonav software could probably find a lot of uses in various areas of robotics..
      • Imaging... anybody have even a rough estimate of the number of images that nasa has collected ?? I don't even have to look to be able to guess that they have stuff for cataloging,
  • Sad (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ObviousGuy ( 578567 ) <> on Thursday February 12, 2004 @10:41PM (#8265765) Homepage Journal
    It's sad that NASA won't simply release the code into the public domain.
    • Re:Sad (Score:3, Interesting)

      by catbutt ( 469582 )
      Why not GPL (or similar) though? By making it GPL, they would force others to keep their modifications open, which is good for all. (at least that is the argument for GPL over BSD, and it seems to apply here just as well as in other places)
      • Re:Sad (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ObviousGuy ( 578567 )
        The BSD license keeps the licensed code open. The GPL wrests any code intermingled with the licensed code into the open.

        There's no need for that kind of anti-proprietary bullying, is there?
        • Re:Sad (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Harry8 ( 664596 )
          Yes, that's exactly right.
          And as I was just looking at the Windows 95 source to fix a few of those annoying bugs I was thingking, "Good thing Microsoft used the BSD TCP/IP stack, otherwise they'd have gone broke trying to sell an OS that 'didn't do the internet' and their code wouldn't be open source."

          I'm sorry, I'm not trying to be offensive. It's an important point about licensing we should all understand.

          Yes, you can check out the BSD TCP/IP stack source.
          No you cannot see how Micorsoft ported it to wor
  • NASA, eh? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Faust7 ( 314817 ) on Thursday February 12, 2004 @10:42PM (#8265766) Homepage
    Jeez, who's next, Microsoft?
  • Do it now! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Rope_a_Dope ( 522981 ) on Thursday February 12, 2004 @10:42PM (#8265774)
    I am most having got need for rocket open source. Now do open source me want for get. Sincerely, North Korean Military
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 12, 2004 @10:43PM (#8265782)
    Well, Microsoft already did so earlier today, so NASA is a bit behind the times for this one. [wink]
  • NASA'Sdoom (Score:2, Funny)

    by i_am_syco ( 694486 )
    John Carmack could do it. A little upgrade to the equipment, and the space shuttles might be powerful enough to play Doom.
    • Re:NASA'Sdoom (Score:5, Interesting)

      by DarthWiggle ( 537589 ) < minus author> on Thursday February 12, 2004 @11:27PM (#8266105) Journal
      The thing about it is that it seems that any NASA source code would be a monument to overbuilt, overengineered, triply-redundant failsafeness. This isn't entirely on point to your (witty) comment, but, I dunno... it seems like looking at this code might be like looking on some absolute crystal perfection of 1960s-1970s code-writing. No fancy classes or object-orientedness. None of this fun stuff. Just raw, uninteresting, bulletproof code (well, except that one little bit that forgot how much flash memory the rovers have... and the unit conversion problem... ok, anyway).

      My question is: how much would we learn from this? When people writing code for business are optimizing for speed and redundancy mainly in the parallel sense (i.e., a failsafe swap to a sister server), how RELEVANT is that to blocks of code written never, ever, ever, ever, ever to fail on tested but "outdated" hardware?

      Furthermore, if we ever get around to privately-built spacecraft, how much NASA code will they want to use? I dunno, it's a neat idea in an historical sense, and it's an admirable sign of government openness when the government is more and more closed to us citizens... but is it more?

      I'm not saying it's not. I'm just curious how it would be. Is NASA /really/ churning out scientific algorithms that are far superior to those coming out of the private sector or universities? (Note that I'm not trashing NASA software folks... I'm just saying they write code for an almost entirely different set of priorities.)

      Or maybe not?

      • Re:NASA'Sdoom (Score:4, Informative)

        by sdedeo ( 683762 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @12:17AM (#8266475) Homepage Journal
        It's hard to judge superiority when the applications are often very specific; my experience with the code that gets passed from researcher to researcher is that it often works extremely well and can be adapted and extended a great deal. See, for example, CMBFAST [], the code used to compute predicted anisotropies in the cosmic microwave background. Not only have people have parallelized it or sped it up (trading off for accuracy), but over the years it has been extended to test more and more exotic physics.

        But code quality aside, what about applications elsewhere? NASA's codebase presumably does a wide variety of things in addition to running gazillion-ly redundant life support on the space shuttle. Think about all the design and testing it does of hardware, the software it writes for image processing and signal analysis, running the deep space network. How about making models of satellite structural integrity? Surely something useful -- although it might take someone within the field to realize the similarity between a problem they face and one NASA has already solved.

        And, of course, scientists love to write their own tools for text editing, data analysis (often these are incredibly powerful and extendable -- naturally more so than, say, commercial software products which remain close-sourced), collaboration software, yadda yadda ad infinitum

  • Sweet! (Score:5, Funny)

    by hcetSJ ( 672210 ) on Thursday February 12, 2004 @10:46PM (#8265801)
    I've built this six-wheeled golf cart in my back yard, and I was hoping to find a good OS for it!
  • by xot ( 663131 ) <.fragiledeath. .at.> on Thursday February 12, 2004 @10:47PM (#8265810) Journal
    with me being in another country,would i be able to use the [OPEN] source code for my government space agency? Would the US govt permit that, nasa being a govt agency.
    They would probably only release code which would not benefint most people don't you think? ;-)
    • Although the US will probably not allow it, sharing the code between countries would be benificial, for both sides. it would probably help other countries develop or improve their space programs, and the feedback that these countries would give the US would help to make it even better. Not only that, but even if it did not benifit the US in any way, it is in the best interests of humanity to develop a good space program.

      If we keep working on this independently, we will have a much harder time of accomplish

  • From

    Open Source: NASA's Open Source Licensing
    Posted Feb 12, 2004 - 11:45 AM

    Bryan A. Geurts, Patent Attorney, for NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center has submitted a first draft of their NASA OPEN SOURCE AGREEMENT to the Open Source Initiative for approval. (No link available at publishing time)

    More interesting is that fact that they are looking for such approval. The obvious question is what will be released to the community and other space agencies once the license
  • by Robotbeat ( 461248 ) on Thursday February 12, 2004 @10:48PM (#8265825) Journal
    NASA's first "A" stands for "Aeronatics", and that's only part of their name. Lots of applications can be thought of. For instance, the source for their 3d ranging application would be very beneficial to many people. I mean, the rovers are able to compute their surroundings in 3d using only 2 cameras. The degree of success and repeatability of these 3d measurements far exceeds any other available 3d ranging software. This type of code could be useful for anyone who wants to make a 3d model of something using only a camera and some precise alignment. Indeed, JPL has a lot of experience in robotics and the gain in knowledge when such code is released is sure to be great for anyone in the field of robotics. Even the Darpa robot competition would be different with such technology freely available.
    • by freshmkr ( 132808 ) on Thursday February 12, 2004 @11:33PM (#8266158) Homepage
      the source for their 3d ranging application would be very beneficial to many people. I mean, the rovers are able to compute their surroundings in 3d using only 2 cameras. The degree of success and repeatability of these 3d measurements far exceeds any other available 3d ranging software.

      Are you certain of this?

      MER's stereo imaging and navigation software is indeed well made. Still, I suspect it's incorrect to claim that it is the best ever written. Stereo imaging and 3-D structure from motion are very well established fields, and improvement is ongoing. It would probably be straightforward for you to find some recent conference papers and code up something in MATLAB that works better than the rover's flight software.

      The quality of the 3d ranging results from Mars are impressive, but for more reasons than you might suspect. I spent summer 2002 interning at JPL. One day, Mark Maimone, the MER mobility software engineer, mentioned to me that images of Martian terrain (with scattered rocks, etc.) are just about mathematically optimal for stereo ranging. (He wrote his thesis [] on this stuff.) On Mars, it's easy to find correlations between pixel patterns in images. Now imagine how well it would work if the robot were staring at a blank wall--no vision algorithm can handle that!

      So--don't think that the success of the imaging is just the well-made software.

      JPL has a lot of experience in robotics and the gain in knowledge when such code is released is sure to be great for anyone in the field of robotics.

      True, to a point. Bear in mind that while JPL does work on novel robotics research, they're also extremely concerned about preserving expensive, hard-to-replace robot systems. As a result, a lot of the software is based on well-established systems that, in the research world, have been surpassed a while ago. The rover autonomous navigation software, for example, is related to navigation software written here at Carnegie Mellon some four or five years ago.

      Furthermore, a lot of the research advances made by JPL are presented at conferences and published in journals. It's not like they work in isolation and keep everything quiet. In fact, some of my fellow grad students work on large projects alongside JPL researchers and researchers at other institutions. So, in an academic sense, there's already a lot of sharing going on.

  • "We?" (Score:3, Funny)

    by FreemanPatrickHenry ( 317847 ) on Thursday February 12, 2004 @10:49PM (#8265833)
    what we, and other space agencies,

    Is this guy referring to Slashdot? ;-)
  • since (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    since nasa is gov. funded, this could be great for opensource. May open the eyes of officials that OSS is NOT "un-American" as SCO suggests
  • by twoslice ( 457793 ) on Thursday February 12, 2004 @10:51PM (#8265848)
    We can have more success at landing spacecraft on Mars. At least the metric/imperial error would have been caught before it went to alpha...
  • ITAR ITAR ITAR (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 12, 2004 @10:54PM (#8265874)
    Not likely to be very workable. NASA can't release a lot of stuff because of ITAR restrictions. The US of A treats most space related items as being ITAR Restricted.

    For those asleep at the keyboard, ITAR is International Traffic in Arms Regulations.

    For example, check out Flight Linux:

    You'll note that even though required by the GPL, NASA refuses to release the sources because of ITAR prohibitions.

    Move along, there is nothing to see here.

    • Re:ITAR ITAR ITAR (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Fnkmaster ( 89084 ) * on Thursday February 12, 2004 @11:42PM (#8266218)
      Wait a second - I don't think you understand the GPL. NASA is only required to provide source code to people who they have provided binaries to. If they have used it internally, they are not obligated to provide source code, though it's generally considered polite to do so if your improvements would be generally useful to the rest of the world. If NASA was selling or distributing binary-only copies of Flight Linux and refusing to provide source code, THAT would be a violation of the GPL.

      Of course it would be nice if they'd realize that a Real Time Embedded OS is not a munition or a satellite control system itself. I understand them not wanting to release the apps that run on it, but surely they could contribute most of the patches to the kernel that they use.

  • It makes one wonder what we, and other space agencies, might see coming out off NASA

    Hmm, how about the image enhancement software for CCD's that they've been sitting on for years...

    Looking through their list of "problems", seems to be mostly self-imposed or over-exaggerated problems. Like indemnifying the US government- the GPL already -does- that...then there's the bit about not endorsing things(which explains the proliferation of "space" pens and "developed by NASA" foam pillows/mattresses).

  • by micromoog ( 206608 ) on Thursday February 12, 2004 @10:55PM (#8265882)
    There must be at least one slashdotter who could dream up a use for NASA software. X Prize participants maybe?"

    Darwin Award, maybe?

  • by AhBeeDoi ( 686955 ) on Thursday February 12, 2004 @10:58PM (#8265898)
    I hope NASA gets their Open Source software out soon. I'm getting thoroughly frustrated trying to write an OS for my planetary rover.
  • by marcushnk ( 90744 ) <senectus@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Thursday February 12, 2004 @11:00PM (#8265910) Journal
    Mars Rover Security system..

    no more dog poop on the lawn ;-)
  • Sweet! (Score:5, Funny)

    by teamhasnoi ( 554944 ) <.teamhasnoi. .at.> on Thursday February 12, 2004 @11:00PM (#8265914) Journal
    I've been itching to get my hands on NASA's Photoshop filters since 1969!
  • by fayd ( 143105 ) on Thursday February 12, 2004 @11:02PM (#8265920)
    This [] was originally developed while he (Gary Riley) worked for NASA at the Johnson Space Cener. It was available in source form since before I started working with it in 1993.
  • Imagine a Beow... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by qtp ( 461286 ) on Thursday February 12, 2004 @11:04PM (#8265932) Journal
    Nasa seemed happy releasing code under the GPL for quite some time, and I find it odd that that is changing now.

    Ever use a network card under Linux, much of the networking code came from NASA (mostly from Donald Becker).

    Still dreaming about that Beowulf cluster? That also came out of NASA.

    Perhaps the lawyers felt left out, so they're trying to do thier part and look useful. Why would NASA find that a license that has served them well for years needs replacing? Any lawyers opine on the new license yet?

  • I have always wanted to initate my own "ROLL" program....
  • by borgheron ( 172546 ) on Thursday February 12, 2004 @11:05PM (#8265942) Homepage Journal
    As an enginneer who once worked for NASA (through a contractor), I can tell you that there are many pieces of software created at NASA which are useful outside of the space program.

    This might be one possible use for such a thing.

  • by Kurt Gray ( 935 ) on Thursday February 12, 2004 @11:07PM (#8265954) Homepage Journal
    I get the impression that NASA develops a lot of software for image processing. I'm picturing some really powerful GIMP plug-ins... "Make Mars Red", "Color Galaxy", "Add UFO"....
  • About time (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Adam_Trask ( 694692 ) on Thursday February 12, 2004 @11:09PM (#8265975)
    I have collaborated with NASA scientists, and you would be surprised how difficult it is for me (not being a NASA employee) to get the code written on NASA machines, even for the same project! They have to go thru a lot of (and i guess, agonizing) paperwork before they release any NASA-grown software. It has been easier for me (and them) to reinvent the wheel more than once at my lab.

    For those wondering about the software produced, they employ folks from all branches of knowledge. Except finance, me thinks.

  • by RyanFenton ( 230700 ) on Thursday February 12, 2004 @11:16PM (#8266022)
    It would be cool to see other nations being able to make useful progress in non-weapons science, being able to actively thank and give tribute to NASA advancements along the way.

    I just hope the sharing might keep going if it starts being seen as a good thing. For some reason, I get the impression we'll get some crazy results too, like French agencies stipulating that no documents may be translated to non-French and still be visible in France. Still, it's definetly problems I'd rather have to deal with then not.

    Ryan Fenton
  • Can't wait. (Score:3, Funny)

    by blair1q ( 305137 ) on Thursday February 12, 2004 @11:19PM (#8266049) Journal

    30 years from now, Man finally lands on Mars, and finds one of the 2010 batch of rovers, and, spelled out in its tire tracks...


  • by Baldrson ( 78598 ) on Thursday February 12, 2004 @11:30PM (#8266137) Homepage Journal
    From a proposed omnibus space commercialization act []:

    (A) GOVERNMENT SUPPORTED INVENTIONS TO BECOME PUBLIC PROPERTY.--Any invention reduced to practice under partial or total government support must immediately be placed in the public domain.
    (B) REDUCTION TO PRACTICE TO BE PRIVATELY FINANCED.--Any invention conceptualized under government funding may be patented, and the patent held by the inventor or his assignee, if all work subsequent to the initial realization that a patentable innovation had been made is carried out under private sponsorship.
    (C) GOVERNMENT NOT TO HOLD PATENTS.--The United States government shall hold no space related patents under any circumstances.
  • Nothing new... (Score:5, Informative)

    by vistas ( 214241 ) on Thursday February 12, 2004 @11:31PM (#8266142)
    For over 30 years NASA code was available through a program called COSMIC which was administered at the University of Georgia.

    In fact for awhile they operated out of one of the many buildings previously occupied by the 40 Watt Club

    Since 1998 the code has been available through the Open Channel Foundation

  • by rezulir ( 688514 ) on Thursday February 12, 2004 @11:57PM (#8266328)
    When I first read about goto staements being harmful when dinsaurs ruled the earth, NASA code was often referred to by my betters as horribly written "spaghetti code". I am no programmer but I would like to see some of this code to see just how bad it supposedly is. Some of it did get us to the moon didn't it?
  • by ScottForbes ( 528679 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @12:05AM (#8266395) Homepage
    Can someone explain to me why software written by NASA, a government agency funded by the public, would not by definition belong in the public domain?
    • Because most of it is written by other entities under contract to NASA. If a civil service employee of NASA writes a program, it isn't copyrighted according to federal law. If a contractor employee writes a program, it is copyrighted. Normally the copyright would be assigned to NASA, who paid for the development of the software.
  • Not free software (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jmv ( 93421 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @12:05AM (#8266396) Homepage
    ...each Recipient, upon receipt of the Subject
    Software, is requested to register with NASA by visiting the following

    I doubt this statement satisfies the open-source definition. I am *certain* that it doesn't satisfy the Debian Free Software definition, because it fails both the "desert island" and the "chinese dissident" tests.
  • Stupid Question? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by LS ( 57954 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @12:19AM (#8266491) Homepage
    Why isn't all content and source code paid for by tax payers freely available? For instance, you have to pay to get the GIS database available from the USGS. All the source code from every government agency should be free as well. Also, why does NPR keep their content locked behind Real servers? I could go on. Am I missing something here? Shouldn't all this be free?

    • Re:Stupid Question? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Nate Eldredge ( 133418 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @03:18AM (#8267396)
      A lot of it is "free", if only you can get it. The problem is that it costs agencies (and hence taxpayers) time and money to distribute, so there is no incentive to do so. For instance, government publications cost money, to defray the cost of producing and distributing them to the public. IMHO it makes sense for this cost to be paid by those who use the material, rather than by a lot of taxpayers who have no interest in it.

      As for the rest, well, that's why we have the Freedom of Information Act. If you want source code for the accounting system for the Bureau of Public Works, put in an FOIA request and they'll either give it to you (for the cost of distribution, I guess) or give you a good reason why they won't.

      NPR is not a government agency, but a private nonprofit organization, so your questions don't apply to it. However, even if it were, the government tends to use "industry standard" formats, and Real could certainly be considered that. As an example, all the forms on the IRS web site are in PDF, and they recommend (free but commercial) Acrobat Reader for viewing. Probably a lot of other files are available as Word documents, since that's how they are produced.
  • by jmv ( 93421 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @12:26AM (#8266529) Homepage
    (expanding a bit on my earlier comment)
    I've read the license quickly and I can definitely say that section 3F will cause problems. Requiring registration does not meet the open-source definition, nor the Debian free software guideline. It discriminates people who either 1) do not have access to the Internel (the "desert island" test) 2) people who can't say they are using the software (the "chinese dissident" test). It also prevents any inclusion in a distribution because it implies that merely buying a Linux distribution that includes the software requires you to register it. If you forget, you are breaking the law (just imagine if all software was released under this license).

    Last thing, by requiring registration, this license seems to cover the *use* of the software, going even further that what copyright law requests. The GPL gives you rights that copyright law alone does not give you (e.g. right to redistribute the code), but it does not *remove* rights (line the right to use the software without telling anyone). This also means that to be valid, the license would actually have to be signed (hence it becomes a contract). The GPL (or other free software licenses) does not require that since it only gives you additional rights (if you don't agree to the GPL, you still have all rights provided by copyright laws).
  • by lone_marauder ( 642787 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @12:57AM (#8266707)
    There's a group in the Orbiter [] space flight simulator community who wants to write a working version of the DSKY Apollo flight computer for Orbiter. While not source code per se, there are some who want to write a virtual machine in C++ to run the DSKY binary code.
  • Public Domain (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kinema ( 630983 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @03:34AM (#8267451)
    I was under the impression that code created by a government agency that was to be released to the public always had to be entered into the public domain. IIRC this was the case with the Enhanced Machine Controller project from the NIST. The idea is that anything the the United States Govenrment creates is owned by by the public as the US Govenrment is "of the people, by the people and for the people"

    Can anyone comment on this? IANAL.
  • by mattr ( 78516 ) <> on Friday February 13, 2004 @06:32AM (#8267961) Homepage Journal
    I think CLIPS is the AI engine I once found, it's by NASA, free and recently updated. Many variants and commercial forks. Found it again after losing it, thanks to this thread. Some links from the aifaq [].

    Pathfinder software archive []

    CLIPS []

    : A Tool for Building Expert Systems. Maintained by Gary Riley.
    fuzzyCLIPS []

    Some other NASA soft:
    COBWEB/3 ( ?
    AUTOCLASS AutoClass is an unsupervised Bayesian classification system for independent data.
    PRODIGY Integrated Planning and Learning System

  • by fw3 ( 523647 ) * on Friday February 13, 2004 @09:51AM (#8268645) Homepage Journal
    ;-) Sorry the pun was irresistable.

    Seriously, something like 8 years ago I was doing some work with a then-new thermal imaging system, running on an Unix / big-endian hardware platform. I needed to extract data from the images and had done so in the past with data sets collected and processed on dos & os/2.

    On contacting the vendor for data formats etc I was told that a group at NASA was doing the same thing so I contacted them and they were able and willing to send me their sources. No license, no problem.

    Honestly the results were pretty disappointing. The code was less well-done than what I'd written 2 years before and I didn't / don't consider myself to be all that strong a 'C' coder.

    Now I've also seen some of their technology-access programs some of which were effectively free (beer sense for those who care) and programs which were arranged to recoup the costs of 'supporting' something for external release.

    All code I've worked with on all of these bases was non-polished stuff, no or little cleanup around the typical hacks involved in in-house development. (i.e. it's great stuff and well suited for moving to open source)

  • What a crock... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dr. Zowie ( 109983 ) <slashdot@ d e f o r e s t .org> on Sunday February 22, 2004 @03:37AM (#8354503)

    I have been wondering what this is all about, having worked at GSFC for some time. I believe that documents (including software) created by NASA cannot be copyrighted, since the U.S. government is not eligible to be a copyright holder under U.S. law (I am not a lawyer). In fact, for code created entirely by civil servants (i.e. NASA-created code) there is a clause thaty says "No copyright is claimed in the United States...", indicating that the work is in that case in the public domain.

    The license might be valid for contractor-created code, but (as has been pointed out) the GPL serves pretty well. I (and many, many others) have been creating "NASA software" and distributing it under the GPL, BSD license, Perl Artistic license, and others for years. The main point of the NASA license appears to be to aid in tracking of the software and non-abuse of the NASA name. The former is probably better served by a polite request rather than a license requirement; and the latter appears to be a problem mainly for the paranoid minds of NASA's legal team.

    It would be a real shame if NASA contracts and grants started requiring this license on any software developed under grant -- that would fuck up contributions to dozens of open-source projects that benefit mightily from NASA research.

    Imagine if every patch a NASA-funded scientist submitted to (say) Perl had a NASA license attached rather than the Artistic License. That would certainly prevent such patches or contributions being included.

Sigmund Freud is alleged to have said that in the last analysis the entire field of psychology may reduce to biological electrochemistry.