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May 21 2010

Open space data can improve lives (and save birds)

BlackwaterThe spectacle of thousands of migratory birds is among the natural world's wonders. And the images of the Earth generated by NASA's network of weather satellites are among humanity's most breathtaking creations.

What happens when bird migrations are tracked using that advanced imaging technology and then mapped onto flight paths? Open government data leads to fewer bird strikes. That's of major interest to anyone who operates, flies on, or is otherwise associated with European air travel, given that the cost of bird strikes due to damage and delays for civilian aviation is estimated to be €1-2 billion.

I learned about this application of open data from Jeanne Holm, the former chief knowledge architect at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (she's since left to be communications and collaborations lead for Data.gov). Holm told me about FlySafe, a European Union initiative that's primarily led through ESA, the space agency.

"Space data is meant to help us understand the world around us," said Holm. "We share because people are asking for it and making a difference with it."

An international ontology for space data

Organizing space data -- such as that used to track bird migrations -- makes it more useful for all users, whether it's in military, scientific, commercial or academic use cases. A global community can collaborate and work more efficiently.

In the video embedded below, Holm told me about her work with the United Nations to create an "international ontology for space," which lets the global science community share open, linked data gathered from space missions.


Next week, Holm will be participating in the "Real Government in Virtual Worlds" discussion at the Gov 2.0 Expo in Washington, D.C.

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Schweinderl