NASA looks to lower open source licensing barriers


The recent launch of is providing better access to NASA sourced and funded projects, but William Eshagh of the NASA open government team says some forthcoming open-source licensing changes will make it more participatory.

"We're still working through, I think, some of the finer details of how to accept contributions from the public," said Eshagh in a recent interview. "More often than not, open source projects at NASA are collaborative efforts between NASA government employees and NASA contractors. And when that happens we have to be a little more creative with how we approach the usage rights problem."

Most NASA open source projects use the NASA Open Source Agreement, or NOSA, said Eshagh. A soon-to-be-delivered contributor license agreement under NOSA will clarify usage rights, he said. In its current state, "if a government employee creates something copyright doesn't apply to it, it's considered a public works. If a contractor and a civil servant work together, it's not so clear."

NOSA presents broader problems, as well. Eshagh said it's a niche license that many developers are unfamiliar with. "We've been trying to branch away from the NASA Open Source Agreement a little bit," he said.

For example, NASA recently released the Nebula cloud computing platform controller using an Apache 2 license, rather than NOSA. This led to the creation of OpenStack, as NASA's code was combined with code released under Apache 2 by Rackspace, said Eshagh.

"We have a number of projects going the Apache 2 route and if they're not on there, they're working on it," said Eshagh. "That's seen as a way to interact with the public without as many burdens, without having to understand a new license, understand its terms, have your lawyers review it."

"Apache is well understood [and] broadly distributed. We're kind of using that one. But that's not to say that's exclusively the right license...we're exploring more license options," said Eshagh.

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