Many of us now working at NASA reflect on our elementary school days, when we were first inspired by the space program. We saw these amazing achievements and thought, quite accurately, that there was cutting-edge technology at work, being developed by brilliant engineers. Oh, how we longed to work alongside and someday become one of those engineers!
Taking a look at the achievements of today, nothing is lost from that effect. Skycranes and spacesuits still inspire. Galaxies are discovered with lenses and techniques that boggle the mind. The hardware being developed at NASA is truly cutting edge.
But what happens to all of this cutting edge hardware in the long-term. Does it retain its impact to society, its relevance to our planet, and most compellingly - its coolness factor? Is open source technology itself, powered by its community, encouraged to reach for the stars - in much the same way we were in elementary school?
As a tribute to the relevance and enduring global impact of NASA technology, we would like to highlight a video blog we stumbled upon today. Fran Blanche acquired a piece of hardware called the Launch Vehicle Digital Computer, which in her words is the “most important circuit board in history”.
Fran’s quest is to learn more about the design decisions made in the past as they relate to the open source hardware movement of today. Her enthusiasm for the impact of the inner-workings of the LVDC brings this Computer Engineer back to the days I dreamed of working at NASA. Her follow-up video where she actually takes the board to her dentist for x-rays is just as awesome…. and I hope she finds more and more answers as she continues her quest! (an introduction is needed between Fran and Ben Krasnow with his Arduino-controlled CT scanner!)
In many ways we have come full-circle. The open source community is making the same decisions that NASA engineers made in Apollo, but for flexibility and hack-ability desires of today rather than reliability and manufacturability challenges of the past. Can this global community collaboratively make the next giant leap? Are we witnessing a rebirth of electronic technology development?
What else could this open source community learn from NASA’s legacy?
And what could the NASA of today learn from theirs?