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NASA Wants Your Help Finding Asteroids, Tracking Weather

Faced with budget cuts but armed with the knowledge that legions of space nerds are standing by to help them out, the space agency is making many of its projects open source.

Like many other organizations, NASA is in a budgetary bind. But unlike, say, your local corner store, there are hordes of people who would love to take on NASA’s world-changing missions—even for free. Launched this week, the code.NASA project calls for the public to help NASA out by doing some pro-bono work on NASA’s open-source activities.

The site is still in early alpha mode, but there are nearly 40 available and upcoming projects listed, including working on a space and ground global precipitation radar, an asteroid detection algorithm, a lunar mapper, and a 3D interactive world viewer.

Open source is the future of NASA, according to a blog post from NASA Ames researcher William Eshagh: "We believe that tomorrow’s space and science systems will be built in the open, and that will play a big part in getting us there. Will your code someday escape our solar system or land on an alien planet? We’re working to make it happen, and with your help, it will."

NASA’s recent work has gone far beyond space exploration, with everything from climate change-observing satellites to an iPhone-based chemical sniffer. In other words, volunteers who sign on to contribute to code. NASA can make an impact close to home.

This isn’t NASA’s first experiment in open sourcing. The open.NASA project is working on open-source cloud computing, on-demand videos, citizen engagement tools, and more. Code.NASA falls under the purview of the larger project.

Open sourcing isn’t all about saving cash for the agency. NASA’s founding legislation calls for the agency to "provide for the widest practicable and appropriate dissemination of information." Now, 54 years later, that’s possible in ways that no one could have imagined when Sputnik was circling the planet.