The API Briefing: Mining the Rich Data Resources of NASA – The International Space Apps Challenges

Aug 27, 2014
Spacecraft Soyuz and Space Station

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has an enormous collection of aerospace and science data sets. NASA missions and projects can create amazing amounts of data. One example: the Earth Observing System Data and Information System has collected enough information to fill the Library of Congress ( A more recent example: the Solar Dynamics Observatory receives 1.5 terabytes of data a day.

As NASA admits, this much information can be overwhelming for agency API development.

“With constrained budgetary resources and the large, complex, and legacy systems our data is housed in, . . . relying solely on NASA data owners to release APIs is not the best approach to opening our data to the world.”

In April of 2012 and April of 2013, NASA hosted the International Space Apps Challenges which had nearly 9,000 participants working on 671 projects. Here are two of the projects that led to APIs.

Predict the Sky API

This API combines weather data with tracking data of space objects to help developers create apps where users can find the best time and viewing conditions to observe the International Space Station, for example.

Mars Atmospheric Aggregation System (MAAS)

Using weather data transmitted by the Curiosity Rover and other data sources, developers can create Martian weather apps. This API is technically interesting as it uses the Django REST Framework to build the MAAS API.

The scientific and technical agencies of the federal government have vast stores of information. Unleashing these national data treasures can create apps that can spur innovation and prosperity for the American public. NASA’s Space Apps Challenges show the way to open the data treasure houses.Each week in “The API Briefing,” I will showcase government APIs and the latest API news and trends. Visit this blog every week to learn how government APIs are transforming government and improving government services for the American people. If you have ideas for a topic or have questions about APIs, please contact me via email.

Dr. William A. Brantley, PMP, is a Program Analyst, in Forecasting and Methods at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM). You can find out more about his work in this space at