NASA Science Directorate Wants Help Prioritizing What Digital Resources It Should Open-Source First

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NASA Science Mission Directorate wants to know what data, software and computing resources the public research community wants access to the most.

NASA’s Science Mission Directorate plans to give the broader research community access to its data, software, computing resources and collaboration tools. But that effort will take time and its own resources, prompting the agency to ask the open-source science community for its opinions on where to start.

Technological progress in cloud computing and network infrastructure has gotten to the point where remote users can access huge troves of data and tap into faraway computing resources, like those owned and operated by NASA. The potential for limitless input and innovation from unexpected—or underrepresented—corners of the research community can supercharge scientific discovery, SMD officials said in a request for information posted Thursday.

As the space agency moves forward with its Open-Source Science initiative, officials want to know which data sets and computing resources would be most useful—both for advancing specific scientific research and for helping scientists collaborate over those networks.

“Open Science principles are a current focus at NASA and in the broader scientific community, as adoption of these principles and concepts will be critical to increasing the transparency, pace and inclusivity of the scientific process,” the RFI states.

However, few of NASA’s systems were engineered for this type of open sharing and collaboration.

“SMD’s Chief Science Data Office is tasked with supporting this transition to more open scientific practices,” including from an infrastructure and IT management perspective, the RFI states. As such, the feedback gathered through the RFI will be used to inform some of the forthcoming upgrades and reconfigurations.

The request for information asks for input on two aspects: what data, software and other computing resources are of most value to the open-source science community; and what network upgrades and communication tools are needed to improve collaboration with NASA and within the community.

For aspect one, “NASA is requesting information on user needs for scientific data and computing, including SMD scientific workloads related to data processing, analytics, modeling and simulation, and Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning (AI/ML) with a focus on needs for supporting Open-Source Science practices in SMD-funded science.”

As per SMD’s internal policy, that will include releasing full data sets under a “clear, open and accessible data license” at the same time as new research is published.

This will also involve making key software publicly available on “a permissive software license” on publication, which will mean designing the software up front to be “developed openly in a publicly accessible, version-controlled platform that allows for contributions and engagement from the community,” the RFI states.

For the second aspect, “NASA is requesting information on scientific data and computing services, system architectures, and information technologies that could be implemented to improve coordination of SMD scientific capabilities and facilitate Open Science practices in SMD-funded science.”

The RFI notes SMD manages “over 40 independent data and computing capabilities,” including NASA-owned, commercial and hybrid clouds and “high-end computing centers.” As the directorate works to better integrate those systems, the feedback from this RFI will help identify priority areas for NASA’s own research community, as well as the broader research community and the public.

The RFI also includes references to NASA policies and guidance for its open-source goals.

Responses will be accepted until midnight Eastern time on Feb. 21.