NASA CTO Resigns To Launch Startup

Chris Kemp, the architect behind the agency's Nebula cloud computing platform, cited frustration with budget cuts in announcing his decision to form his own company.

Elizabeth Montalbano, Contributor

March 16, 2011

3 Min Read

NASA, Microsoft Reveal Mars In Pictures

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The creator of NASA's Nebula cloud-computing platform has resigned his position at the agency to form his own venture.

NASA CTO Chris Kemp will leave NASA after five years Friday, "leaving the place I dreamed of working as a kid to find a garage in Palo Alto to do what I love," he said in a blog post announcing his resignation.

In his post, Kemp cited the difficulty of being an entrepreneur at NASA as one of the key reasons he decided to make the move. He said that while he thought he had "the best of both worlds" working for NASA in Silicon Valley, where so much technology innovation happens, he realized it was the opposite.

"I actually had the worst of both worlds... no influence when I when I can't be in all of those meetings at NASA HQ, with no mandate to manage projects at Ames," Kemp wrote.

He also cited budget cuts and an inability to get adequate funding as hampering his ability to do all he wanted to do to leverage technology innovation at the agency. "As budgets kept getting cut and continuing resolutions from Congress continued to make funding unavailable, I saw my vision for the future slowly slip further from my grasp," Kemp wrote.

Indeed, Kemp leaves an impressive portfolio of technology accomplishments behind at NASA, some of which he mentioned in his post. He was named to InformationWeek's Government CIO 50 list for his accomplishments.

While CIO of Ames, a position he held before taking over as agency CTO, Kemp created the aforementioned Nebula infrastructure, which has the potential to save not just NASA but other federal agencies money and improve efficiency by allowing them to move backend resources to the cloud.

Kemp oversaw two major information-sharing projects with Microsoft and Google. One, the WorldWide Telescope, made numerous images taken by NASA telescopes -- including photos of Mars taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter -- available in an interactive Web application. The other, Bring Space Exploration Down to Earth, made volumes of NASA information accessible in Google Earth.

While at Ames, Kemp also helped the White House launch, a Government Services Administration-operated Web site that government agencies can use to buy and deploy cloud computing applications. U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra unveiled the site during an event at Ames.

NASA also has been proactive in supporting open source computing under Kemp. The agency donated code from Nebula to OpenStack, an open-source cloud computing project, and at the end of the month, just after his departure, it will host its first-ever open-source summit.

Kemp said that he hopes the work he started at NASA will continue after he's gone and expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to be a part of changing the agency's culture through technology.

"I hope that our efforts to ensure a more open, collaborative, and efficient NASA persist through the many great people, projects, and organizations that I will miss more than I can possibly express here," he wrote. "Thank you all for an incredible five years together."

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