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One small step for open data

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NASA has a plan. Not one, in this case, about spaceships and astronauts, but something far more 'down to earth': open data.

The organisation's Plan for Increasing Access to the Results of Scientific Research was first published in late 2014, laying out NASA's commitment to open up its datasets for international reuse. Full implementation of the plan is set to be in place from October 2015.

NASA satelliteThe plan aims, in NASA's words, to "ensure public access to publications and digital data sets arising from NASA research, development, and technology programs".

Done properly, opening up complex data sets for public analysis and reuse can lead to new and exciting discoveries, sometimes by those with nothing more than a keen amateur interest (or perhaps obsession) with the topic.

NASA is fully aware of this potential. It says it wants to support researchers to make new findings based on its data, not just in the US but around the globe. As if to prove the point, NASA's Data Stories website highlights a number of case studies of people reusing its datasets in original applications, such as a 'Solar System Simulator' created by Canadian website developer Martin Vezina.

NASA also knows it needs to show commitment to scientific integrity and the accuracy of its research data and wants to encourage others to do the same. So by publishing its own datasets, NASA's team are setting a benchmark for researchers hoping to grab a slice of the organisation's annual research investment – a whopping US$3 billion. A condition of funding those research contracts, outlined in the 2014 document, is that researchers must develop their own data management plans describing how they will provide access to their scientific data in digital format. One small step for open data, one giant leap for new scientific discovery?

Image: NASA satellite courtesy of NASA (Creative Commons)

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