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NASA To Leverage Nebula For Gulf Ecosystem Project

The agency moves ahead with work on its cloud-computing infrastructure even after its creator Chris Kemp has left the agency.
NASA is moving ahead with its work on the Nebula cloud-computing platform even after the departure of the technology's creator.

The agency's John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi recently used the cloud-computing infrastructure to process data for an environmental project aimed at boosting the health of the ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico.

The center's Applied Science and Technology Project Office (ASTPO) has been using the results of NASA Earth Science research to address issues identified by a partnership of five states in the Gulf region called the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, according to a post on NASA's Nebula blog. The group is collaborating to improve both the ecological and economic health of the Gulf region, which sustained a major blow last year with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster.

The alliance has been trying to develop analysis that can link biological conditions in the Gulf to nutrient concentrations with the goal of using the information to improve conditions there, according to the post. It's been using satellite observations to estimate water quality parameters as part of that research. However, this requires processing thousands of datasets from a NASA data center located at Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), which researchers said can put a strain on local computers.

To speed up the processing, the ASTPO is using Nebula to process the data sets, as well as using Web services to access and download data sets from disparate, regionally dispersed systems, according to Slawek Blonski, a specialist in computational techniques and remote sensing at the office.

"The big advantage of Nebula is the ease of transferring the program image between the regions," he said in the post. By leveraging the cloud, researchers also are able to customize the computational environment for specific processing needs, Blonski added.

Nebula is the brainchild of former NASA CTO Chris Kemp, who left the agency after five years in March to form his own company. In a blog post upon his departure, Kemp said the difficulty of being an entrepreneur at NASA and budget cuts that threatened innovation at the agency were key reasons he was leaving to form his own venture.

Despite Kemp's frustrations, NASA seems committed to continuing the work he began with Nebula, one of the most significant investments in the cloud to date at the federal government. The week after his departure, NASA highlighted Nebula at the agency's first-ever Open Source Summit as a success of its open-source software strategy. Core technology from cloud infrastructure is a part of the Open Stack open-source cloud-computing project.