Last week Wired let us know that NASA was going open source, sorta: "NASA scientists plan to announce a new open-source project this month called CosmosCode — it's aimed at recruiting volunteers to write code for live space missions."
Basically, CosmosCode will let open sourcers develop code for foundational spacetech software—think generic Google Earth tech that can be easily adapted to simulate other planets—which NASA will then tweak internally for specific missions. The project is actually run by a couple of 20-somethings that conduct meetings in Second Life.
Meanwhile, the Freakonomics Blog reminds us that this isn't the only unconventional dev program at NASA, as the agency is directly or indirectly throwing its weight behind the Centennial Challenges, several X-Prize style technology development competitions. Solve a particular technical problem this year, and you'll earn a few hundred thousand dollars for your trouble.
Still, NASA remains a government agency, so don't think all their ideas smack of cutting-edge genius: Freaknomics also points us to this Wall Street Journal blog report:
"California Rep. Ken Calvert, ranking Republican on a House Science subcommittee overseeing NASA programs, surprised an industry conference in Colorado Springs, Colo., by announcing plans to introduce a bill that would make 'NASA space assets available for commercial advertising and marketing opportunities.' If that ever becomes law, companies and universities might be able to market themselves by plastering logos on equipment or sponsoring equipment such as cameras on the International Space Station."
Yeah, we're talking the Budweiser logo slapped onto a Project Constellation crew capsule here. I guess you can't have the benefits of privatization without the drawbacks, too. I can't say I'm looking forward to the day we put billboards in space. Of course, the irony of a Linux-coded space probe with a Microsoft logo slapped on the side would be painfully hilarious.