How would you use a NASA API?

| One of the major focuses of President Obama’s Digital Strategy is to encourage the development and use of API’s for service delivery from government agencies. For those of you who are unfamiliar with API’s, this Quora thread provides a good description. In short, API’s provide an interface for machines to talk with each other. A good example […]

One of the major focuses of President Obama’s Digital Strategy is to encourage the development and use of API’s for service delivery from government agencies. For those of you who are unfamiliar with API’s, this Quora thread provides a good description. In short, API’s provide an interface for machines to talk with each other. A good example would be the Disqus comments openNASA uses. By plugging in to their API, we are able to offer their commenting mechanism on our site. Simple, right?

API’s offer a lot of promise for NASA. We gather a lot of data – about 15 Terabytes per day! That means we brought down almost 2 gigabytes in just the time it took you to read this sentence. Future missions like Destiny could collected 24 Terabytes per day all on their own. As Nick outlined last week, as we collect more and more data, figuring out the best way to distribute, use, and reuse the data becomes more and more difficult. API’s are one way we can significantly lower the barrier of entry to people from outside NASA being able to manipulate and access our public information.

We’re just getting started with APIs, our biggest being the open data API we launched just about one year ago. As part of the digital strategy, we’re committed to making more API’s available (or highlighting the awesome work other people have done to create API’s, like the folks at ExoAPI who created one for Kepler exoplanet data as part of the International Space Apps Challenge). We need your help, though! As we work to share the value of APIs with other’s around the agency, we’d love use cases and reasons why the public would value being able to access NASA data via an API. Have an idea? Want to create something, but need an easier way to access our data to use it? Want a particular dataset API-ized? Let us know! Any comments or feedback you can provide would be immensely helpful as we continue our quest towards a more transparent, collaborative, and participatory agency. Either give your comments below, or email them to me at sean.herron@nasa.gov if you’d rather not share publicly. Thanks for your help!


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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=603090601 Anonymous

    Consider recruiting LE/Military Retired & Interpol “same-same” also retired “trusted company” community people and leverage 700 technology starting U.S. & Canada and tie this all to as many civilian caring individuals as you can? Foremost for SAFETY & “Saving Lives”. The Security angle speaks for itself?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=603090601 Anonymous

      say your a police chief and you have geo spatial capability for watching your hood…i personally would want someone who has worked and knows the streets in each community…there is a lot of retired good people out there who would love to monitor a neighborhood or “whatever” from their laptops at home….i think

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=603090601 Anonymous

        then parlay that to “Community Action Platoons” globally? best i can do…..good luck.

  • brad giddens

    we’d use the API to help create 3D Renderings of space like planets, solar systems and constellations.

  • http://jonathansblog.co.uk jonathan

    id totally use a NASA api just to put it on my cv :D
    not as cool as actually getting paychecks from nasa, but still :D

    • http://jonathansblog.co.uk jonathan

      just to reply to myself, but how cool would it be if we got our own mars rover that we could send one command to :D

  • http://open.nasa.gov Sean Herron

    Thanks! We don’t have too much in terms of resources but are doing everything we can. Check out data.nasa.gov – it’s a pretty good index of the data we have.

  • http://open.nasa.gov Sean Herron

    Have you seen ECHO API? https://api.echo.nasa.gov/echo-rest/

  • http://open.nasa.gov Sean Herron

    Do you use any NASA resources to help curate that data?

  • Johnny Fuchs

    I’d love to do some data visualization of telemetry data from satellites, rovers, maybe even some star mapping. In the same way that some developers are using google maps as a game environment. It could be interesting to use actual planetary surface imagery for the same thing.

  • Joseph Plante

    I would like some raw data just to play with and examine for myself. I feel that a lot of college students could have some really interesting projects and possibly help with NASA work.

    It doesn’t have to be a constant set. It could data good for 1-2 weeks or so. For example, electromagnetic information gathered from the Moon. What does the Moon sound like? What kind of readings are out there gathered from the Hubble telescope? How about some data on Hurricane Sandy?

    I might not be able to do anything with it, but it would be a lot of fun to analyze.

    I would also love to have NASA hack-a-thons.

    • http://open.nasa.gov Sean Herron

      Hey Joseph!

      Check out data.nasa.gov – not much is available in API form but there are a lot of datasets you could use.

      As for hackathons – take a look at spaceappschallenge.org :)

  • Anonymous

    I think astronomical data from stars, planets and moons should be avaible as APIs for reference. It would be very interesting to have this data through API because it should be updated fester that through cryotic publications.

    • http://open.nasa.gov Sean Herron

      There is an API of exoplanet (outside the solar system) data available at exoapi.com – not everything you’re looking for but may be useful.

  • johndurbinn

    How about we stop funding this liberal largesse, and start focusing on cutting our debt and allowing Americans to KEEP THEIR OWN MONEY, AND NOT GIVE IT AWAY TO USELESS GOVERNMENT EXPENDETURES LIKE THIS! We need to defund NASA now if we have any chance of making it through another few years.

    • Jochen Bedersdorfer

      You obviously have no clue on the huge benefits the US has reaped from NASA and continues to do so. I would define USELESS GOVERNMENT EXPENDITURE as having the urge to have a military complex that is bigger than that of our allies combined.

      • johndurbinn

        The consititution SPECIFICALLY ADDRESSES the need for a highly capable military. IT DOES NOT SAY A GODDAMNED THING about going to space. We need to go back to the constitution, or our country will crumble.

    • http://profiles.google.com/ste3ls BENJAMIN GROßE

      troll.

  • http://twitter.com/sigpwned Andy Boothe

    It would be great to have NASA put some APIs up that would compute the configuration of astral bodies in the sky at a given point in time, or less directly provide implementations of complex equations via API. This could lower the barrier for developers to building world- or space-modelling apps, or even just some fun games.

  • Jochen Bedersdorfer

    I can’t believe no one mentioned gaming yet. I would create a kick-ass game that simulates our future in space. How we exploit resources in our solar system, finance research for faster space crafts and hopefully invent a gate technology that would allow us to travel to our neighboring systems.
    Fly over the rings of Saturn and scan for mineral rich moonlets or asteroids. Build a secret station on asteroids around L4 and L5. Explore the outer regions of our solar system. Land on Pluto and plant your own flag.
    Stuff like that.
    Using an API to get coordinates, imagery, geological data would be awesome for this.

    • http://profiles.google.com/ste3ls BENJAMIN GROßE

      Came here to say gaming :) an HTTP API would be cool, jsonp would be a plus.

      • http://open.nasa.gov Sean Herron

        Totally agree! We do have a lot of datasets at data.nasa.gov that might help with this. Also, it’s not much, but check out http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/3d_resources/index.html for some 3D models of our spacecraft that could be used.

  • James Munroe

    I think it would be really cool to turn machine learning agents that use unsupervised learning algorithms (e.g. population clustering and attribute attribution) loose on large swaths of NASA data that been gathered but has not yet been classified, especially if it can help shed light on the details of the earliest moments, composition, and eventual fate of our universe.

  • Michael Mol

    Background images, screensaver fodder and digital picture frames.

  • http://wave-france.blogspot.com Supercopter

    The open.nasa.gov website experienced some difficulties / downtime a day ago. Were comments lost or are they still awaiting moderation? I would have loved to read eventual reactions to my API suggestion, as well as discovering other commenter’s suggestions. At this point I have this webpage open in a tab for ~3 days, but always seeing the “No one has commented yet” message, while knowing that there is at least two comments (mine), is IMHO enough to turn even the most patient reader away…

    ► I think you should reconsider your Disqus settings: for a website about “openness”, comments need to be a lot more open.

    The setting to NOT publish comments awaiting moderation doesn’t suit at all a website asking for feedback: this post has certainly been shared on Twitter, Facebook and on Google+ numerous time, but what have people following those shared links found? A post asking for suggestions without any suggestion apparently submitted… This makes the post look like a failure, and that doesn’t encourage anyone to write a comment. On the other hand, if comments were published immediately, every people who have visited this page would have been reading existing suggestions, thus being encouraged to react / respond, and many would certainly have at least be using the Disqus ability to vote up or down on comments, thus filtering for you the most popular ideas.

    Also, I think it’s all about having a little faith in your audience: the open.nasa.gov website is visited by space enthusiast, not the average web troll. And even with comments immediately published, moderators would still have the ability to delete any comment with a single click. In fact, even readers would have the ability to “flag” any bad comment, making it instantly disappear until it has been reviewed by a moderator. And compared to the openness benefits, would having a spam link displayed for some hours be such a big deal?

    I hope you’ll consider opening up open.nasa even more! Make this website a community driven effort!
    B.R. – Jeremy

    • http://open.nasa.gov Sean Herron

      Thanks for your feedback. We try to approve comments as fast as possible but not everyone is online as frequently as we would like to be :) Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons we need to keep comment moderation on, but I totally understand your points. We’ll try and do a better job of approving comments quickly in the future.

  • Nathan Bergey

    I would really love to see is a list of current active deep space missions. There are thousands of satellites in LEO, too hard to keep track of them all, but there are only a handful in deep space. But some are dead, others are just forgotten. Can anyone name the probes outside of LEO right now? A list that gets updated regularly would be awesome!

    • http://open.nasa.gov Sean Herron

      That’s a great idea, Nathan! May be an interesting SHD project :) The issue that we always run in to with things like this is there is no one to curate it. It would be interesting to pull in metrics from them as well (eg. how far away from Earth, current velocity relative to us, etc)

  • http://wave-france.blogspot.com Supercopter

    I’m not a developer or a coder but as a space enthusiast I’d love to see NASA APIs allowing computer programs like Google Earth (and Google Moon or Google Mars), Celestia, Stellarium, or any other space simulation to fetch data from NASA so that those programs would always be streaming up to date data, including the latest pictures and information available.

    For example, thanks to such a NASA API, I would be able to zoom in on the Gale Crater in the “Mars view” of Google Earth and, in relevant places, instead of showing the default low-res textures over the 3D model, the latest images taken by Curiosity would be plated upon the 3D model (the way pictures are utilized to create the Google Maps “Street view”).

    I suppose this would imply that every NASA picture accessible via this API, and text information as well, would need to be precisely geolocated to be displayed in the right place in those computer programs, i.e. located in the night sky for nebulae, located in the right place on Mars for rover pictures, located in the solar system for asteroid fact sheet, etc…

    • http://open.nasa.gov Sean Herron

      Hi Supercopter,

      I agree a better interface for our images would be awesome. Most of the programs you speak of actually do pull from NASA resources (primarily because we are the only ones with the data!). We actually do provide such an interface for Google Earth of photos taken from the International Space Station (http://eol.jsc.nasa.gov/sseop/clickmap/, click on Google Earth Database Query). It’s not quite as elegant as can be, but it’s a start :) I think that if Google Earth provided an interface , it would definitely be possible to do something like what you speak of with the Planetary Imaging System (http://pds-imaging.jpl.nasa.gov/). Curiosity data is not yet available in there due, but should be once it’s all verified and ready for release.

    • http://twitter.com/sigpwned Andy Boothe

      Totally agree! I can only imagine the incredible things developers could do with better access to NASA images, especially the images collected from the rovers. A “guided tour of Mars” with something like Google Street View along the way would be an incredible experience. Put it onto a tablet, and you could potentially get a great augmented reality app where your tablet is literally a “window to Mars.”

      Building something like this would be challenging because the rovers probably don’t take pictures that will easily power “street view”-type stitching, but it would be great to see what people could put together.

      • http://open.nasa.gov Sean Herron

        This would be amazing.