NASA needs open source framework

David Perera | FierceGovernmentIT | June 25, 2012

Despite some well-known open source projects undertaken by NASA, the space agency lacks a framework for understanding the use and production of open source software at the agency level, say a clutch of computer programmers and technologists. In an article published earlier this spring by IT Professional, information technology professionals led by Chris Mattmann, a senior computer scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, say that when they tried to open source a JPL project, they "entered uncharted territory."

Among the issues they encountered was which license to use and where to distribute the code. Article authors wanted to use an Apache license and put the code on the Apache Software Foundation's hosting site, but they had to resolve issues such as the existence of a NASA-specific license and another license created by the JPL jointly with the California Institute of Technology, plus the fact that JPL also had its own code hosting site.

Navigating through such complicating factors requires three considerations: licensing, redistribution and contributions back into the code, authors say. The type of license chosen has an impact on whether the code can be commercially developed, for example. The GNU Public License, authors note, requires commercially-developed modifications to open source code to remain open source, whereas the Apache license is "more commercially friendly, giving private companies quite a bit of leeway."...