Android….in….space! This morning, Will Marshall of NASA showed the Android Open Conference plans for a sub-$10,000 Nexus One “phonesat.” Given that the cost of satellites usually measure in the tens or hundreds of millions or so, that’s a rather spectacular cost savings.
Marshall says that this will be the fastest processor to govern a satellite. For reference, Mars Explorer used a 33MHz processor. It sends signals back via amateur radio packet system, rather than ground tracking. The launch video is embedded below:
Great anecdote: when a launch failed, the entire payload fell without parachute into desert. The data was left intact.
William launching 3 Android phonesats in December, in space for 3 weeks. As O’Reilly Media’s Gina Blaber pointed out, they’re “iterating Silicon Valley-style.”
For more, check out the short documentary below about the PhoneSat suborbital test launch in the Black Rock desert:
You can follow @NASA_Phonesat on Twitter — there’s no official website yet – and, according to Marshall, eventually check out code on Github, where NASA is open sourcing some software behind it. (And yes, that’s a big deal.)
In one of the first posts on NASA’s newly relaunched open government blog, open government analyst Ali Llewellyn writes more about why adopting open government is important now, with a nod to Tim O’Reilly’s essay on “government as a platform.”
…OpenGov is not just data transparency or technology use. “Open government is an innovative strategy for changing how government works,” Beth Noveck, the original director of the White House Open Government Initiative, explains. “By using network technology to connect the public to government and to one another informed by open data, an open government asks for help with solving problems. The end result is more effective institutions and more robust democracy.”
From the beginning, democracy was supposed to be participatory. Thomas Jefferson noted in a letter how he envisioned a government where “every man…feels that he is a participator in the government of affairs, not merely at an election one day in the year, but every day.”
In the service of that vision, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration continues to extend its journey into the open government stratosphere with the launch of a redesigned open.nasa.gov. The new site complements nasa.gov/open – but doesn’t replace it. (The /open sites that exist on federal .gov websites are a direct result of the Open Goverment Directive issued by the White House Office of Management and Budget in 2009.)
The new NASA open government is a beautiful departure from standard NASA websites. In fact, it’s a lovely move away from the Web design citizens encounter at most of the thousands of federal .gov sites. In part, that’s because the new NASA open government site is built upon General Service Agency-approved technologies and the same open source platforms ( like WordPress) that you’ll find at top-notch blogs like BoingBoing. (Or Govfresh). All due credit to Nick Skytland, Chris Gerty and Sean Herron for their hard work coding and designing the site as well. Skytland, who now heads up open government at NASA, wrote in to share his vision for the site and make a request:
After months of development and many discussions, we are very excited to announce the official public launch of open.nasa.gov. The site is a collaborative platform for the open government community at NASA to share success stories and projects related OpenGov from around the agency. The content on this site is written by NASA employees and contractors (just the core OpenGov team right now). We will be highlighting the ways that transparency, participation, and collaboration are being embraced by NASA policy, technology, and culture, and the future that becomes possible because of that commitment. We would love your feedback on the site. Please let us know if you have any issues with the site so we can fix them. The site works on most browsers, but we are still working out issues with Internet Explorer.”
Aside from WordPress, the technology behind open.nasa.gov includes:
A WordPress theme by Landau Reece called Protean 1.0
The Disqus commenting system
The UserVoice feedback collection tool
As I reported yesterday, NASA’s open government story now includes supplying the innovation behind OpenStack and Nebula. That said, while the technology behind the new NASA open government site and other initiatives is important to recognize, it has to be valued in terms of its ability to both host conversations and feature the people behind it. As NASA’s open government story evolves, cultural changes will be important to track, along with any technical milestones driven by open source or efficiencies driven by tightening budgets.
A note on FOIA
One of the interesting decisions that British Columbia’s government made in its adoption of open government was its decision to separate good government data, associated with transparency and accountability, from open government data, associated with innovation and co-creation.
NASA’s open government site makes no such distinction, with the link to Freedom of Information Act requests buried down at the bottom of the open data page. NASA’s open government plan includes aspirational goals of further reducing its FOIA backlog and creating a “single, Web-based system for handling all FOIA requests across the 13 NASA locations.” If the agency can do as well with that system as it has with the design, communication and coding embodied this new site, its open government team will be able to celebrate more good government achievement alongside its explorations into citizen science, random hacks of kindness, education and open data.
It’s going to be a while before we’ll know if this bold vision comes to pass, but it’s important to be clear: this private sector innovation and startup is the outgrowth of one of NASA’s open government initiatives, where a technology developed by the government was released to the public to innovate upon.
That outcome can be at least partially attributed to Nebula CEO Chris Kemp, the former NASA CTO for IT, built a cloud “dream team” for Nebula’s launch from Kleiner Perkins’ basement. Nebula has the potential to bring cheaper private clouds to enterprises and small to medium-sized business to government, which could stand to leapfrog a generation of technology. (Putting a cloud behind an organization’s firewall could also address the security and compliance challenges that have hampered adoption of public cloud by enterprise and government users.) You can watch the announcement of Nebula at OSCON in the video below:
I talked with Kemp yesterday about OpenStack, his new startup, enterprise IT and innovation in government. “I am just unbelievably excited about all of the innovation that’s going to happen, he said. “When I left NASA, there was an open playing field. Citrix has bet their company on a tech that emerged out of NASA. Rackspace has incorporated it as well. Dell and HP are working with OpenStack too.”
Kemp, at least for now, doesn’t appear to be looking towards acquisition as his exit strategy. “We’re building a whole new company,” he said. “It’s not going to acquired by Dell or another large vendor. It’s too important to be lost in a big organization. The opportunity here is to build a lasting company that plays a key role in how computing unfolds.”
It’s the potential to change the world that seems to have brought a glint to Kemp’s eye. “This is why I left NASA,” he said. “I had this idea, this concept, I knew it had the potential to change the world, I knew it was time to build that. There are things you can only do inside of government, and there are things you can only do outside of government.”
In at least one sense, this outcome is about Gov 2.0 versus the beast of bureaucracy, once again. “The thing I learned at NASA is the biggest barrier to this stuff is the culture within the organization,” said Kemp. “It’s people. In a federal agency, people have been there forever and have spent tons of money on tools. What we’re doing with this appliance will disrupt a lot of that.”
Kemp also offered a suggestion to government agencies with innovators trying to make a difference. “The real shame is that you take the most risk-averse people in the world – government civil servants – and make them take the most dangerous leap, to end their careers, to be entrepreneurs. Imagine if government allowed people to take one year without pay, try to create something, and then return to public service.”
While that may be an unlikely dream, Kemp has left government himself, jumping to an endeavour that has the potential to disrupt the future of computing. “We want people to build on a platform that isn’t unnecessarily expensive or reliable,” he said. “We’re selling a little box that creates an infrastructure service and supporting it. You plug it in at the top of the rack where basically joins ‘the collective.’ It becomes part of a massive compute and storage cloud that’s compatible with Amazon and allows anyone to use a cloud that based on standards.
And they can do it with the cheapest hardware.”
Open source has been a key component of NASA’s open government work. Now one of its open source projects may become part of the work of many other people in industries unrelated to aerospace. With the launch of Nebula, an open government initiative looks set to create significant value — and jobs — in the private sector, along with driving open innovation in information technology.
NASA‘s celebration of the one year anniversary of its implementation of the Obama administration’s Open Government Directive included a beautiful new infographic, above.
To zoom in, you can download and explore a hi-resolution image
of the infographic.
The sweeping, visually accessible representation of the galaxy of open government activity at NASA shows the progress that the air and space agency has taken to towards accomplishing the more than 150 milestones it committed to reaching in the NASA open government plan.
Overall, NASA currently rates the completion of the open source component of its open government plan at only 20%: there’s a long journey ahead in that area, as in others. Writes NASA: “We have made great progress in some areas; others have taken longer than we anticipated and extra time is required to fully realize the goals.”
Some missions will, by nature, take longer than others.
Today in California, NASA is hosting its first Open Source Summit. You can watch the open source livestream here. The first Open Source Summit is at Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. Engineers and policy makers across NASA are meeting with members of the open source community to discuss the challenges with open source policy. Here’s the agenda. The liveblog is below.
At just after 4:50 PM EST today, space shuttle Discovery launched in Florida. Commander Steve Lindsey and the 5 other members of the STS-133 crew will deliver the Permanent Multipurpose Module and Robonaut 2, a humanoid robot, to the International Space Station. NASA’s uStream channel is below. At launch time, there were more than 40,000 people tuned in to uStream, along with many more watching NASA TV online.
The NASA tweetup is certain to provide live, likely very enthusiastic, coverage. If you want slighter slower updates from NASA’s live blogger, follow the STS-133 launch blog. You can see all of NASA’s social media activity at Buzzroom.NASA.gov.
Fittingly, a nod to Carl Sagan, whose work inspired and informed so much of humanity. The Pale Blue Dot. If you haven’t watched that film lately, here’s a version from one of humanity’s modern marvels, YouTube:
It’s good to be inspired by what’s possible. If you want to tell NASA what you think about space travel and follow what’s happening in orbit, check out buzzroom.nasa.gov and follow a few astronauts. They are, literally, out here.