CosmosCode: Open source launches NASA into a future we’re nostalgic for

Today I read in a Wired news story posted by Aaron Rowe that two young scientists at NASA are launching an open-source project this month called CosmosCode. Its goal is to get volunteers in the public sector – world wide? – to write code for live space missions.


I was immediately stung by a flash of boyhood nostalgia. Remember all the space operas which just assumed that the world would unite to explore space together and of course do battle against evil aliens and make friends with friendly ones? This soaring galactic vision still persists in our Star Wars and Star Trek mythologies.

Well, it seems to me that NASA has put us on the road to achieving this vision, leapfrogging any UN decree or international parlay or official collaboration among nations. Now, anyone in the world with the good will and the talent might help launch, navigate, and explore space, not as agents of their governments but as citizens of Spaceship Earth.

That’s the fond dream, anyway. Chalk it up to nostalgia for an oft-imagined future by an aging SF junkie, a future that – with the help of NASA and an open source global collaboration — we may be able to resuscitate.

Anyone who has followed the adventures of SUNY Learning Environments over the last four years knows we’ve been advocates for open source collaborations in large, diverse environments. They seem especially promising for SUNY because of the way they can unleash the “intelligence of networks” — the wisdom of the crowd — if they are managed wisely. I hope NASA’s project will help demonstrate the virtues of such an approach, even when undertaken by a government agency.