NASA Hosts Its First Open Source Summit
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.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."
"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."