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I was curious about why NASA publishes all the results/data from its operations. Does the USA have a law that mandates it or is it a voluntary contribution to the world?

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    $\begingroup$ "Why NASA publish all the results/data it gets?" Why not? $\endgroup$ – Sean Sep 19 at 1:17
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    $\begingroup$ How do you know that all data is published? $\endgroup$ – copper.hat Sep 19 at 4:58
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    $\begingroup$ They don't. "Even though Congress's intention in forming NASA was to establish a purely civilian space agency, according to David a combination of circumstances led the agency to commingle its activities with black programs operated by the U.S. military and Intelligence Community." – NASA's Secret Relationships with U.S. Defense and Intelligence Agencies $\endgroup$ – Mazura Sep 19 at 6:53
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    $\begingroup$ It's interesting that there seems a significant difference between ESA and NASA with respect to releasing images immediately after acquiring them. For example, there was a big discussion about ESA's decision to delay the Rosetta images at the time sciencemag.org/news/2014/11/… $\endgroup$ – user2705196 Sep 19 at 12:22
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    $\begingroup$ I'm still waiting for SpinSat results from 2014... $\endgroup$ – SF. Sep 19 at 14:05
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It's required to by the legislation that created it, the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958.

FUNCTIONS OF THE ADMINISTRATION

Sec. 203. (a) The Administration, in order to carry out the purpose of this Act, shall--

(1) plan, direct, and conduct aeronautical and space activities;

(2) arrange for participation by the scientific community in planning scientific measurements and observations to be made through use of aeronautical and space vehicles, and conduct or arrange for the conduct of such measurements and observations; and

(3) provide for the widest practicable and appropriate dissemination of information concerning its activities and the results thereof.

Emphasis mine.

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    $\begingroup$ I suspect that provision came in response to the Soviet Union's activities during the Cold War which were much more secretive. I remember hearing in a documentary or two about how the United States felt it important to at least appear to be transparent about what all was being developed... an effort to show that what was being built and done was for peaceful purposes. I'll see if I can find a source on that, unless you know one off the top of your head. :-) $\endgroup$ – Brad Sep 18 at 21:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Brad Well, it was the Eisenhower administration - they also had the "open skies" plan. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Sep 18 at 21:15
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    $\begingroup$ "appropriate dissemination" means not classified. Which afaik, a fair amount of NASA's cargo was/is. So, it ain't "all" of it, not by a long shot. $\endgroup$ – Mazura Sep 19 at 7:00
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I drive by it every day... We do it for the benefit of all:

enter image description here

Really though, the government has a vested interest in making sure we (the United States) remain a technology leader in the world because it's good for the economy. Private industry is usually too risk-averse to undertake basic research with no current applications even though the payoff can sometimes be huge.

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  • $\begingroup$ Venturestar, DC-X... $\endgroup$ – jwenting Sep 19 at 7:06
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    $\begingroup$ No, the US government has a vested interest in making sure its citizens think it remains a technology leader. Whether they also delude themselves is just a side effect. The "we haven't already invented it, therefore it doesn't work" attitude which used to pervade some parts of NASA didn't benefit anybody. $\endgroup$ – alephzero Sep 19 at 9:27
  • $\begingroup$ @jwenting I'm not sure what you are trying to say, but in case you are trying to give examples of the private sector taking financial risk by doing basic research, then you should be aware that those are not example of that (because examples rarely exist). If you type those two names into Wikipedia, both articles mention within the first sentences that the government was involved, presumably mostly financially. $\endgroup$ – Nobody Sep 19 at 17:01
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    $\begingroup$ @alephzero Perhaps "technology leader" wasn't the most accurate choice of words, because I don't want to take away from the success of other countries. We are certainly still very competitive in many fields, and basic research (by many more organizations than just NASA) contributes to that. Regarding the "attitude"; there are jaded engineers everywhere, but it is not the norm in my experience. $\endgroup$ – Aaron Sep 19 at 19:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Nobody no, those are examples of things where NASA prevented advances in science and engineering, after massive investments by private industry. $\endgroup$ – jwenting Sep 20 at 15:44
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Because they're scientists, and publishing your results is what scientists do. There's a reason why the final step of basically every research methodology used in academia is "publish your results" (and I'm only saying "basically every" because I'm not an expert on the field of research methodologies, so while it's possible that there's one obscure one out there that doesn't, it doesn't seem likely to me).

Also because they're legally obligated to do so by the rules of their government funding, as pointed out in Organic Marble's answer.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome on the site! Afaik NASA is more engineers than scientists. $\endgroup$ – peterh says reinstate Monica Sep 19 at 1:06
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, they publish garbage like "A bacterium that can grow by using arsenic instead of phosphorus". $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Sep 19 at 2:16
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    $\begingroup$ @peterh the number of people is irrelevant. NASA does scientific research and those efforts are invariably led by scientists. $\endgroup$ – Hobbes Sep 19 at 7:20
  • $\begingroup$ @peterh I don't know for sure, or where even I would find reliable numbers, but I would have said the opposite. Much of the engineering is contracted, while NASA does the research (with the possible large exception of the SLS which is a somewhat controversial topic). $\endgroup$ – Aaron Sep 19 at 21:12
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    $\begingroup$ Publishing results is standard for most scientists in academia, unless engaged in commercially-sensitive work. But (unfortunately) is is still not standard for scientists to publish all of their data. That data is what they use to continue publishing, and to keep ahead of their academic competition. There are going moves to insist on releasing public data, but that more often comes from the funder end (who want the data to be used widely) than from the scientists, who often have strong incentives to keep it to themselves. NASA operates on a more open model. $\endgroup$ – Michael MacAskill Sep 19 at 23:47
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NASA is not a stand-alone thing. It is the civilian part of the space industry, and partially, the military industry of the USA. They work together.

For example: they publish the photos, what the Hubble made. This is very useful for the whole humanity. But the same (or very similar) technologies are used in spy satellites, too. Only the watch not the sky, but the Earth. Of course nothing is known about their capabilities and results. Not even the engineering details of the Hubble are public - only its results.

Most countries have some law enforcing the access of the tax-payers to the results of their tax. This can be avoided on national security reasons, but it needs to have a reason. The law of the USA probably doesn't enforce to publish the results for the whole world, but it is practically impossible to narrow, for example, the availability of the Hubble photos to the USA citizens. It has also much better PR to openly publish it.

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    $\begingroup$ Regarding openly publishing to the world, I've seen in foreign-language forums how enthusiastically some people out there follow NASA and its science. I've seen people say that it's an American endeavor but they feel like they're a part of it. That is indescribably wonderful, and maybe an under-appreciated PR tool. (I feel the same when, e.g., China puts a lander on the moon, or Japan takes shots at an asteroid. There's just something international about space science.) $\endgroup$ – Greg Sep 18 at 20:51
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    $\begingroup$ @Greg "and maybe an under-appreciated PR tool." The Eisenhower administration knew exactly what it was doing in this case. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Sep 19 at 2:13
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    $\begingroup$ Why do you think the engineering details of the Hubble aren't available? Granted, it's probably not that easy to find specific details, but I'd guess that that's more because very few people would actually be interested in the details. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Sep 19 at 2:16
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    $\begingroup$ "Nothing is known of their capabilities" well, until the president tweets them all out. $\endgroup$ – corsiKa Sep 19 at 7:55
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesf Afaik there is no such thing that "all hubble details document". What we call Hubble, is in fact a complex network of various hardware/software products, deployed by a huge mass of various companies USA-wide. It depends on their preferences and their NASA contract, how do they publish their details. The unfortunate custom in that industry, that they don't publish anything, or at most very little. It is even so for an infrared TV controller, how would it be done differently for technologies used now to watch the Russians/Chinese? $\endgroup$ – peterh says reinstate Monica Sep 19 at 10:21

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