NASA urged to study open source code requirements • The Register


Houston, we had a problem: Our rocket specialists don’t fully understand the nuances of software licensing.

NASA, of course, is more than just rocket scientists. It is home to software engineers and other technical types, as well as those inclined to maintenance, management and administration, and other less historical roles.

But among those at the US Space Agency who deal with software – writing it down, requisitioning it, staring at it – there is less understanding of the requirements of open source software than it should be.

Or say John Haiducek, Thom Edwards, Wade Duvall, Sarah Cannon, Kai Germaschewski and Jason Kooi – a mix of boffins from the US Naval Research Laboratory, the Technical University of Denmark, the University of New Hampshire and others. .

Haiducek et al. recently completed a short article titled “Recommendations for Clarifying NASA Open Source Requirements,” which was posted through ArXiv. In it, the researchers observe that although NASA has a policy designed to encourage the development of open source software, its staff continue to be confused as to the specific meaning of terms such as “open source software,” “free software. And “permissive license”.

“Some NASA documents and policies have recognized that the OSI and FSF definitions are widely accepted, but NASA does not always use and apply these definitions consistently,” the document explains.

“In addition, many scientists misinterpret the term ‘open source’ to simply mean that the source code is publicly available. As a result, some software products developed by scientists are advertised as ‘open source’ even if their licenses violate ten criteria of the OSI definition.

Such misunderstandings in the past have prevented some NASA software from being included in Linux distributions. And, the authors argue, they can trigger NASA solicitations. Proposal teams may interpret OSS requirements differently from NASA, thereby limiting the scope of their work or extending it beyond what NASA can accept.

“Establishing common ground on the meaning of terms related to free software and increasing the clarity of communications around software licenses would benefit NASA and scientists funded by NASA,” say the authors.

Bruce is not impressed

Bruce Perens, creator of the Open Source Definition, partner of the board of directors of OSS Capital LLC Venture Capital and CEO of an undisclosed startup, said The register in a phone interview he knows well with NASA scientists from his work at the Open Research Institute, which aims to foster collaboration around technologies otherwise subject to national export controls.

He said he was really impressed with the extent to which NASA boffins have embraced open source software, but added that there was a gap in the way developers are trained.

“As the involvement in open source software expands, we reach a problem, which is that you can take a four-year course in computer science and never have a course in intellectual property,” said explained Perens.

“It’s not just a NASA problem. It’s a problem throughout the software industry. Not only do programmers not really recognize what open source is or what the rules are, I would say. that most have never read the license. “

Perens said the recommendations offered in the document seemed reasonable. “It basically means come together on intellectual property,” he said.

The register asked NASA for comment. A spokesperson for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) happily said he would try to find someone to respond. But since this story was filed on a Friday, when the East Coast press office closed and many of JPL’s in California had a day off, we don’t expect an immediate response. ®


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