July 02, 2012, 8:00 AM — The Shuttle fleet may be retired, but NASA's innovation efforts continue unabated, with the agency's latest contribution driving the world of cloud computing. In fact, the story of how-and even more so, why-NASA has taken a leadership role in the cloud is a fascinating example of our tax dollars well spent, and a prime example of the government's new mantra to do more with less.
NASA's Open Government Culture
NASA's role as government-funded innovator dates to its founding. The National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 called for NASA's active participation in the scientific community, wide dissemination of information regarding its activities and the encouragement of commercial use of space.
This mandate led to what the agency calls the NASA Open Government Plan, which takes the spirit of NASA's charter and strives to embody transparency, participation and collaboration across all activities. The agency has endeavored to take a multi-dimensional approach that addresses technology, policy and culture, thereby extending the Open Government Plan well past the space-centric scientific world that drove NASAs original mission.
When President Barack Obama took office in 2009, his pledge to work toward "an unprecedented level of openness in government" aligned perfectly with NASA's existing Open Government Plan. In fact, the Obama administration's open government efforts have emphasized the same three priorities that have guided NASA all along-transparency, participation and collaboration.
As a result, when the administration issued its directive to all government agencies to harness new technologies to make information about agency decisions readily available to the public, NASA was ready to hit the ground running. NASA had already been developing NASA.net, a unified technology platform for use across all of NASA's Web projects.
NASA.net took a service-oriented approach to abstracting IT resources and associated middleware, offering common Web development tools and bringing NASA's numerous Web-centric initiatives onto a common, reusable platform. The goal was to create a "convergence effect" that would lead to improved efficiency and greater visibility across the agency.