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NASA Contributions to IT

Tom Costello, UpStreme
Phillip A. Laplante, Pennsylvania State University
Jeffrey Voas, US National Institute of Standards and Technology

Pages: pp. 2-3

Abstract—Many beneficial technologies in computing and information processing have emerged over the more than 60 years since the creation of NASA. These technologies have profoundly affected civilian and military computing and IT applications. This issue celebrates a tiny fraction of these successes, particularly as they apply to IT.

Keywords—NASA, information technology

When we think of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), we think of satellites, spacecraft, the space station, and their enabling technologies, especially those that let humans survive in space. However, such technology doesn't just benefit space exploration and astronauts—it benefits everyday consumers as well.

NASA's Expansive Reach

Each year, NASA produces Spinoff, a report outlining its contributions to the US (see Many derivative technologies in medicine and personal comfort have emerged from NASA missions, positively affecting our lives.

However, beneficial technologies have also emerged in computing and information processing over the more than 60 years since the creation of NASA. These technologies have profoundly affected civilian and military computing and IT applications. Furthermore, spinoff companies, increased computational efficiency, and new product opportunities arising from NASA research have produced enormous economic benefits. This issue of IT Pro celebrates a tiny fraction of these successes, particularly as they apply to IT.

In this Issue

The first article, "Contributions to IT: A View from Ames Research Center," describes how research in physics, intelligent systems, and robotics at NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley have long spurred advances in IT and civilian applications, including air-traffic control and data mining. The authors recount some historic milestones but focus in particular on recent contributions in modeling and simulation, next-generation air-traffic management, intelligent systems, and complex data analysis.

The next article, "High-End Computing Technologies for NASA Missions," takes us on a historical tour of the NASA advanced supercomputing facility housed at Ames. For more than 30 years, work at the supercomputing center has yielded important results in batch scheduling, storage technology, scientific visualization, system benchmarking, and grid computing.

Open source software has been an important factor in IT for many years now, but its use in US government applications has been limited. The article "Understanding Open Source Software at NASA" describes NASA's study of open source software and the development of a framework and policies for adopting open source in NASA's ground-based software and for other government projects. Focusing on licensing, redistribution, and contribution, the adoption framework is applicable not only to NASA but also to other government institutions and even commercial entities considering open source software.

NASA is also well known for its work in emerging technologies. "Building Resilient Space Exploration Systems" describes how NASA has pioneered special self-management computing systems using various AI techniques such as swarm computing. Swarm-based spacecraft systems, composed of multiple self-organizing and autonomous spacecraft, provide a new computing paradigm based on the cooperative nature of a hive culture. The design and implementation of such systems requires new engineering approaches that might also apply to miniaturization, nanotechnology, solar energy, and battery technology for green and low-power computing systems. Swarm technologies also have potential applications in civilian and military systems.

Finally, in this issue's Trends department, "Farewell to the Space Shuttle," Phillip A. Laplante provides some personal anecdotes about his days working on the Space Shuttle project and its many positive effects on technology and people. There has been some controversy in the US related to the closing of the Space Shuttle project; its planned replacement, Project Constellation; and the general direction given for NASA. Laplante opines that refocusing the NASA mission isn't a good thing, and he longs for "the good old days."

We hope that you enjoy these contributions and that they renew your enthusiasm and respect for the legacy of NASA in the IT profession. We're looking forward to the next 60 years of NASA innovations and the benefits they'll bring to humanity.

New Editorial Board Member



Fulvio Corno is an associate professor at Politecnico di Torino, Italy. His research interests include intelligent environments, the Semantic Web, and Web technologies. Corno received his PhD in computer engineering from Politecnico di Torino. He's a member of IEEE , the IEEE Computer Society, and the ACM. Contact him at

About the Authors

Tom Costello is CEO of UpStreme. Contact him at or
Phillip A. Laplante is professor of software engineering at Pennsylvania State University. Contact him at plaplante@
Jeffrey Voas is a computer scientist at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). He also serves as IEEE Division VI Director. Contact him at
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