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NASA Opens Space Data To Take On The World's Toughest Problems

NASA has updated its Open Government Plan with the intention of creating more transparency and community-driven collaboration between the Agency and the public. With open data at its core, the initiative is leveraging the cloud to benefit humanity.

Melissa Jun Rowley
April 17 , 2012

Space, the Final Frontier, the place no man had boldly gone to until 1961, is still a mystery to society in many ways. However, the information that's been gathered from space has enabled scientists to understand world climate change, and now data from the outer galaxy can even help the blind learn math. This has all been made possible through the sharing of open space data.

NASA is shedding more light on how space exploration can advance the way we live on earth with the organization's updated version 2.0 Open Government Plan, which was just released this month. As part of the initiative, NASA is holding the International Space Apps Challenge April 21-22.  Set to take place in 25 different locations around the world, the competition is bringing together developers from different backgrounds to come up with solutions on how to solve the biggest problems under the sun using open data.

The apps being developed in the challenge are divided among four categories including open software, open hardware, data visualization and citizen science platforms. They cover a range of topics including improving education and preserving the environment.

"The data that is going to be used is all open and available on the Internet, shared Kristen Painting, project manager for the Apps Challenge. "All NASA challenges were reviewed by the NASA legal team in addition to the organizations responsible for the data, to ensure the appropriate data is being released. However, any other data that is open and available on the Internet is welcome to be used, as well."

Leading Gov 2.0 analyst and CEO and Founder of GOV20LA, Alan Silberberg, says NASA'a latest open government efforts are a great step forward.

"It really shows how far NASA and the entire U.S. Government has come since 2009," shared Silberberg. "In 2010, NASA first announced part one of their Open Government plan, which ended up along with those of the State Department and Department of Defense, becoming a model widely adopted throughout the government."

This isn't the first time NASA has called on citizens to contribute ideas openly. In February, the Agency was included in a platform called the Citizen Engagement Tool, which allowed people to rank and discuss ways NASA can be more transparent and build community. Ongoing flagship initiatives of NASA's Open Government activity include the NASA Nebula cloud computing platform, which was built to provide a place for researchers and scientists to share large data files with the public.

"Our goal is to leverage the cloud as much as possible for Open Data and Open Source at NASA," said Nicholas Skytland, program manager of NASA's Open Government Initiative.  Silberberg says it's his contention that Open Government and Gov 2.0 have basically merged in large part due to the cloud.

"On one hand Gov 2.0 is about incorporating social media (now mobile too) into the daily engagement process for Government to Government communications and Government to Citizen communications, combined with open transparency," said Silberberg. "Cloud is transforming government partially due to less infrastructure cost, and partially due to the way in which it defines and encourages mobility, thus encouraging BYOD or "bring your own device."

The proliferation of devices comes full circle with NASA's International Space Apps Challenge. As more information is shared openly via the cloud and through open data, community and collaboration here on earth and beyond are creating a new frontier of possibilities.

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