NASA Hosts Its First Open Source Summit

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2011-03-30 Print this article Print

title=Why NASA Should Use More Open-Source Software} 

The colorful DiBona, speaking on Day 2 of the event, told attendees at the summit that NASA should not be afraid to be more experimental and consider using more open source code to test software in unmanned flights.

"They should not be afraid to blow up some robots once in a while. Unmanned flights can afford to take more risks," DiBona said.

"People say, 'We don't want to endanger [manned] flights. We don't want to endanger lives. Open-source software comes from unknown sources,'" DiBona said. "But that couldn't be further from the truth. Open-source software comes from communities who've worked closely on it."

However, open-source software is just software, and you still have to make sure it fits your mission, DiBona said.

"You have to make sure it provides utility and security and the 'bug free-ness' you're looking for. So much of the regular software we use is generated-directly or indirectly-from open source code," he said. "If open-source software is such a problem [to deal with legally], then why are we using so much of it?"

NASA's use of open source has been restricted in past years due to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) of the U.S. State Department, which apply directly to aerospace equipment. DiBona argued that these restrictions ought to be eased.

If NASA's IT group used more open-source software, DiBona said, the help of the community would save time and tax dollars as well as speed up transfer of technology to and from aerospace programs. It also would accelerate NASA's software-procurement practices, he said.

The result, he said, is that projects would be completed much faster and for far less capital expense.

"The rules need some looking at," DiBona said. "We are being too conservative as a community in not releasing software that is simply geometry or trigonometry or calculus."

Chris Preimesberger Chris Preimesberger was named Editor-in-Chief of Features & Analysis at eWEEK in November 2011. Previously he served eWEEK as Senior Writer, covering a range of IT sectors that include data center systems, cloud computing, storage, virtualization, green IT, e-discovery and IT governance. His blog, Storage Station, is considered a go-to information source. Chris won a national Folio Award for magazine writing in November 2011 for a cover story on and CEO-founder Marc Benioff, and he has served as a judge for the SIIA Codie Awards since 2005. In previous IT journalism, Chris was a founding editor of both IT Manager's Journal and and was managing editor of Software Development magazine. His diverse resume also includes: sportswriter for the Los Angeles Daily News, covering NCAA and NBA basketball, television critic for the Palo Alto Times Tribune, and Sports Information Director at Stanford University. He has served as a correspondent for The Associated Press, covering Stanford and NCAA tournament basketball, since 1983. He has covered a number of major events, including the 1984 Democratic National Convention, a Presidential press conference at the White House in 1993, the Emmy Awards (three times), two Rose Bowls, the Fiesta Bowl, several NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments, a Formula One Grand Prix auto race, a heavyweight boxing championship bout (Ali vs. Spinks, 1978), and the 1985 Super Bowl. A 1975 graduate of Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., Chris has won more than a dozen regional and national awards for his work. He and his wife, Rebecca, have four children and reside in Redwood City, Calif.Follow on Twitter: editingwhiz

Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel