NASA Wants You to Help Build More APIs

Curtis Chen
Oct. 01 2012, 09:00AM EDT

Space is big. Really big. That means a lot of information, and where there's data, there's opportunity for automation. Now, NASA wants your help to create new APIs for its extensive and ever-growing data archives. Launched in 2011, data.nasa.gov offers APIs for many different types of information--ranging from Mars Science Laboratory Raw Images to Annual Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Reports--as JSON objects via a RESTful interface.

All the APIs are categorized and tagged, and there's a search function to locate keywords in the description of each data set as well. (Easter Egg: the empty search results page features astronauts' "latest tweets....FROM SPACE!!!") But that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Last week, as part of a webinar on how government agencies are using APIs, NASA Program Manager Nick Skytland presented "NASA's Open API Universe" and called for more crowdsourced API development. In his words:

There is a wealth of data available at data.nasa.gov. We have a lot of work to do to build more meaningful, focused APIs that deliver the many kinds of data we produce, and we would love your help! There is a huge opportunity for anyone with interest to help NASA make its data more accessible and derive new meaning from existing datasets through APIs. Whatever you can dream of doing with this public data, it’s yours to use, and we encourage you to get involved.

As part of NASA’s response to the Digital Government Strategy, we are charged with creating at least two new APIs in the coming year. We would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on what data you would like us to focus on. We also hope to create more opportunities for YOU to get directly involved. We’ll be offering a few new API related challenges at upcoming mass collaboration events this next year, including Random Hacks of Kindness or the second International Space Apps Challenge.

As an example, Skytland called out ExoAPI, one of several successful projects from this April's first International Space Apps Challenge. This "Open Planet API" takes information from the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia and offers it RESTfully through either CORS or JSONP requests, and it was created in just two days by three developers "who knew nothing about space before they started." Just imagine what's possible when more of the open source community gets involved.

Visit open.nasa.gov for more about all of NASA's information sharing initiatives.

Curtis Chen Once a software engineer in Silicon Valley; now a science fiction writer and puzzle hunt maker near Portland, Oregon. You may have seen his "Cat Feeding Robot" Ignite presentation. Curtis is not an aardvark.

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