Remarks on the General Open Source Concept of GMAT

Discussions related to the GMAT architectural design

Remarks on the General Open Source Concept of GMAT

Postby René Schwarz » Sat Apr 14, 2012 1:17 pm

Hello,

first, I want to express my gratitude for developing and releasing GMAT as open source software and the associated efforts. Because of my connection to the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in the last years, I noticed that GMAT is widely used, which has drawn my interest in learning how to use GMAT and to see how some things, especially the astrodynamical calculus, have been implemented within GMAT. Unfortunately, getting started with GMAT and its source code is fairly complicated and confusing. Additionally, I noticed some inconsistencies and obstacles for external developers interested in contributing to your project.

I would like to give you some basic points, which shall illustrate the problems for new users/external developers out of my perspective as a new user to GMAT:

  • There is no central source for information regarding GMAT.
    The project's website at sourceforge.net states:
    The General Mission Analysis Tool (GMAT) is a space trajectory optimization and mission analysis system developed by NASA and private industry. GMAT contains new technology and is a testbed for future technology development.

    and refers to a NASA website for further information. This NASA website is not accessible for the public (maybe only for employees within the internal network). I, for my share, only get the "NASA IT Security Warning Banner". This forum as well as the wiki are hard to find; all other project components (bug tracker, SVN, blog) are again at varying places, which are not interconnected to each other.
  • The wiki is unstructured.
    The wiki contains a lot of pages; nearly all are orphaned, meaning they don't relate to each other by interlinks or categorization.
  • The SVN repository does not to reflect the recent sources of the documentation.
    The LaTeX sources of the Mathematical Specification are two years beyond the current PDF version, making a participation of external developers at the GMAT documentation impossible (this is also true for the Architectural Specification).
  • The Mathematical Specification is hard to understand.
    Not because of its underlaying principles, but because in lack of some explanations/introductions.
  • There is no common logo usage.
    The GMAT project seems to use many variants of a project logo. Notwithstanding that this is pedantic, the usage of one single variant throughout the project would support the image as well-conceived software project.

Having said this, I would like to contribute to the GMAT development by offering my participation in building a sufficient project infrastructure (website, wiki, blog and so on at one common place) for increasing the visibility of GMAT and to offer a more clear and more structured introduction for new users. In addition, I would like to participate at GMAT's documentation (in particular the Mathematical Specification); unfortunately, the sources are not up-to-date.

As a first working point, I would set up and design a website for GMAT using WordPress, which allows the integration of website and a blog. In addition, a tight integration of a wiki into this new website and blog could be achieved by using MediaWiki (I'm quite familiar to MediaWiki and I'm able to achieve the described customization really fast; TikiWiki is not unknown to me, but I never used it before) for the public GMAT documentation. Transferring the contents of the current wiki should be easy.

There would be three options for hosting this new infrastructure:
(1) At your primary website, http://gmat.gsfc.nasa.gov, if access can be granted (which I don't believe).
(2) At your project's web space at sourceforge.net.
(3) At my own domain for space projects, http://space-tools.net/GMAT.

What do you think?

Kind regards,
René
René Schwarz
 
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Re: Remarks on the General Open Source Concept of GMAT

Postby shughes » Tue Apr 17, 2012 5:34 pm

Hi René,

Thanks for your post and interest in GMAT. I'm glad you have found GMAT useful. I put some specific answers to your points below. We would love for your help on a more coherent front-facing site. We are a small team and all of our time is currently going towards testing and documentation for our first production release. I would hope if we collaborate on this we develop something our project could use heavily. (We have lamented for some time our poor public-facing infrastructure). In that case, our team will need to have backups and admin access. The options below should solve that issue.

I know there is no way for you to gain access to our gmat.gsfc.nasa.gov domain. In fact, that is the reason we use so many other sites. Here are some possible alternative hosting sites:
I would lean towards the open government option.


Here are some specific responses:
René Schwarz wrote:There is no central source for information regarding GMAT. I, for my share, only get the "NASA IT Security Warning Banner"
states:


Our website was taken down for security reasons beyond our control and has been offline for several months. That is why you see the banner you see. The site will be up soon, perhaps in a few days. The front page of the web site has links to the forum, the wiki, executables, and source which would have solved some of the issues you ran into. I added the links to the SourceForge home page a few minutes ago so that they appear in more than one place.

René Schwarz wrote:The wiki is unstructured.


Our Project Dashboard (http://gmat.ed-pages.com/wiki/tiki-index.php?page=Project+Dashboard) is our front end for current activities. Did you see this? This page even contains links to minutes for our weekly meetings.

René Schwarz wrote:The SVN repository does not to reflect the recent sources of the documentation.


This was intentional because of potential export controlled items. It wasn't until recently that we learned we could migrate our living docs to SourceForge and just haven't done that. That said, our docs are always works in progress, we have a small team. I'll migrate them over the next few weeks.
René Schwarz wrote:
The Mathematical Specification is hard to understand.


I wrote most of the math spec and I wish I had time to go further into derivations and explanations. However, I don't have time to do that so the math spec is just used to document algorithms and not as a text book or to provide theoretical background. I have many books I would recommend for that purpose if you are interested.

René Schwarz wrote:There is no common logo usage.


Besides some document front pages, can you tell me where the logos are different than the one at the top of this page? We changes logos last year and perhaps we missed a few. Thanks for the help!
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Re: Remarks on the General Open Source Concept of GMAT

Postby shughes » Tue Apr 17, 2012 10:31 pm

Looks like the open government option is a few years away according to the plans on their web site. This means that either SourceForge or our linode server are perhaps the best options.
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Re: Remarks on the General Open Source Concept of GMAT

Postby René Schwarz » Thu Apr 19, 2012 6:37 pm

Hello shughes,

thank you really much for your reply; it would be my pleasure to support GMAT.

Public Infrastructure

shughes wrote:We would love for your help on a more coherent front-facing site. We are a small team and all of our time is currently going towards testing and documentation for our first production release. I would hope if we collaborate on this we develop something our project could use heavily. (We have lamented for some time our poor public-facing infrastructure). In that case, our team will need to have backups and admin access. The options below should solve that issue.

After knowing this, it would be interesting for me to see the contents of your (currently non-accessible) website at gmat.gsfc.nasa.gov (what website structure/contents did you already set up). Do you have a backup or screenshots? I would just like to see how the GMAT project previously has been presented to get a basic understanding of your wishes.

It is neccessary to talk about your ideas regarding a new website design as well as the structure of this new website. Possibly you could sketch your ideas for design and content structure.

No matter where the hosting takes place, for sure you should and you will have admin access and a possibillity for making backups (it's your site).

shughes wrote:I know there is no way for you to gain access to our gmat.gsfc.nasa.gov domain. In fact, that is the reason we use so many other sites. Here are some possible alternative hosting sites:
I would lean towards the open government option.

As far as I understand, open.nasa.gov currently is in a preview state only. Although it is planned to support NASA's open source projects by offering a sourceforge.net-like hosting platform, it is not usable for this purpose yet and in the foreseeable future. So I think this will not be an option this time, unless you put me right (I wasn't able to find anything regarding a website hosting; currently, it seems only to be a link directory for NASA's open source projects).

Sourceforge.net could be used for hosting, if own software installations will be used. The one-click installable software components offered by sourceforge.net themself are out of date mercilessly. Unfortunately, sourceforge's servers are often under heavy load, so they are annoyingly slow in serving contents, especially dynamically generated ones. I noticed problems of this kind with your public-facing server at Linode, too.

I see two additional solutions, since I'm operating own servers (I will offer the hosting of GMAT's project webspace for free to you):
  1. I can offer GMAT a project's webspace at my domain space-tools.net (either as sub-domain or as virtual folder under the root domain).
  2. It would also be possible for me to register a dedicated domain for the GMAT project with a domain name of your wish.
For both solutions, one of my webservers will host and serve your contents for the public for free. Benefit: You wouldn't have to care about software maintenance by your own. I have experience in hosting and integrating many well-known software components like WordPress, MediaWiki, WebSVN, MantisBT or The Bug Genie (an alternative, freely available bug tracker as compared to your Atlassian JIRA, which I could not host at my server for license reasons, I guess).

No matter what solution will be chosen, I will prepare a demonstration of a possible new website and infrastructure at a demo place on my servers for the sake of simplicity; a migration to another place/server would be easily possible later.


Other Points

shughes wrote:
René Schwarz wrote:There is no central source for information regarding GMAT. I, for my share, only get the "NASA IT Security Warning Banner"
states:


Our website was taken down for security reasons beyond our control and has been offline for several months. That is why you see the banner you see. The site will be up soon, perhaps in a few days. The front page of the web site has links to the forum, the wiki, executables, and source which would have solved some of the issues you ran into. I added the links to the SourceForge home page a few minutes ago so that they appear in more than one place.

OK, but for external persons it is hard to understand, why the official website shows a "NASA IT Security Warning Banner" without any further information. This could be daunting. The new links at your sourceforge.net page are more clear --- however, there should be a central website connecting all development components.

shughes wrote:
René Schwarz wrote:The wiki is unstructured.


Our Project Dashboard (http://gmat.ed-pages.com/wiki/tiki-index.php?page=Project+Dashboard) is our front end for current activities. Did you see this? This page even contains links to minutes for our weekly meetings.

No, I haven't seen this page, because I thought it is a TikiWiki system page... My fault.

shughes wrote:
René Schwarz wrote:The SVN repository does not to reflect the recent sources of the documentation.


This was intentional because of potential export controlled items. It wasn't until recently that we learned we could migrate our living docs to SourceForge and just haven't done that. That said, our docs are always works in progress, we have a small team. I'll migrate them over the next few weeks.

From what I understand, you have published a compiled version, for example, of the Math Specification. So this version seems to be freely available, because you released it to the public. I can't see the point for restraining the LaTeX sources of this documentation, since as well as it sources shouldn't contain export restricted material (and even if it does: it doesn't need to be committed to the SVN repository).

shughes wrote:
René Schwarz wrote:
The Mathematical Specification is hard to understand.


I wrote most of the math spec and I wish I had time to go further into derivations and explanations. However, I don't have time to do that so the math spec is just used to document algorithms and not as a text book or to provide theoretical background. I have many books I would recommend for that purpose if you are interested.

Your position is reasonable. I understand that, for example, a Mathematical Specification should be no introduction into astrodymical calculus. However, such a specification should contain an explanation of symbols, notation standards and units used. And this is what I'm missing at the current documentation.

shughes wrote:
René Schwarz wrote:There is no common logo usage.


Besides some document front pages, can you tell me where the logos are different than the one at the top of this page? We changes logos last year and perhaps we missed a few.

I think I have seen the different versions of the logo at different places in the documentation. I will go through the SVN tree in the next days and note down all different logo usages.

shughes wrote:Thanks for the help!


It is and it will be my pleasure to help.


Kind regards,
René
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Re: Remarks on the General Open Source Concept of GMAT

Postby JWB » Sat Apr 21, 2012 7:51 am

Greetings,
I've only recently become aware of this excellent project through the International Space Apps Challenge, specifically the GMAT: NASA Mission Simulator. I'm quite excited about getting involved with the project, though I don't know how much time I'll have this weekend (I'll make as much as I can, but I'll stick around long after).
shughes wrote:Looks like the open government option is a few years away according to the plans on their web site. This means that either SourceForge or our linode server are perhaps the best options.

Does the GMAT team not have control or influence over the code.nasa.gov GMAT page? All the relevant links are there (except the blog link is broken), which I found a short google-search after I ran into the "NASA IT Security Warning Banner" roadblock.

What's wrong with using the wiki home page as the main landing site until the open government initiative is ready (aside from the seemingly unofficial domain name)? It provides links to all the immediately desirable subsections (for newcomers), including the Project Dashboard, and is a quicker barrier to entry than the Project Dash (since the dash often takes one off-site to google docs). The wiki home page is what I expected to find for a concise, "Here's what you need to dive in" list of project links.

Incidentally, the dataset link at the aforementioned ISAC GMAT: NASA Mission Simulator page should be updated to something publicly functional as quickly as possible.

Thanks for all your hard work shughes.
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Re: Remarks on the General Open Source Concept of GMAT

Postby shughes » Sun Apr 22, 2012 4:34 pm

Not finished with this post yet but gotta go so posting the current draft:

Here are some more comments: We recently switched from Bugzilla to JIRA and we need to stick with that tool for that sake of continuity during this critical phase or our project. The good news is because we are open source, Atlassian provides us free licenses for all of the tools we are using. I believe we can therefor host Atlassian tools anywhere under the license they provide us. (thanks Atlassian!!)

I'll provide some brief thoughts on what a re-organized infrastructure might look like. But, I am not particularly good at designing these interfaces to be honest. In addition to the amount of software development and modelling type work load we have,that is one of the reasons the infrastructure is in the state it is in. So, I am interested in how you would propose to organize and present the data if we define upfront what the basic content areas are.

I think the gmat.gsfc.nasa.gov should become a simple, brief front end with high level overview and project description and a link to the new infrastructure. Most of the content on the web site would be moved to the new interface for ease of maintenance and public access.

This list is not done!!
Wiki
Dashboard - overview and links to current activities used daily by people working on the project. A more streamlined version of our existing Dashboard.
Live docs.
Archived docs.
Web site pages - Overview of the project,
Forum
Issue and Task tracker.
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Re: Remarks on the General Open Source Concept of GMAT

Postby shughes » Mon Apr 23, 2012 6:38 pm

Our web site is back up if you would like to look at the contents: http://gmat.gsfc.nasa.gov/
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Re: Remarks on the General Open Source Concept of GMAT

Postby shughes » Wed Apr 25, 2012 11:53 am

One of our GSFC team members posted a list of model open source sites here (thanks Joel!): http://gmat.ed-pages.com/wiki/Model+Ope ... e+Projects

I went through each and evaluated quickly on look-and-feel, and organization. ScyPi and LibreOffice stand out to me in particular. We may be able to find someone on our end to help with this. René, is something like ScyPi beyond the scope of what you were thinking?

Thanks,

Steve
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Re: Remarks on the General Open Source Concept of GMAT

Postby René Schwarz » Sat Apr 28, 2012 10:09 am

Hi Steve,

please excuse my late response, I have had a medical incident in my family a short time after my last posting. Now I get round to go through all of your points in chronological order.

We recently switched from Bugzilla to JIRA and we need to stick with that tool for that sake of continuity during this critical phase or our project. The good news is because we are open source, Atlassian provides us free licenses for all of the tools we are using. I believe we can therefor host Atlassian tools anywhere under the license they provide us. (thanks Atlassian!!)

Alright, then it should be no problem to migrate the JIRA installation to another place.

I'll provide some brief thoughts on what a re-organized infrastructure might look like. But, I am not particularly good at designing these interfaces to be honest. In addition to the amount of software development and modelling type work load we have,that is one of the reasons the infrastructure is in the state it is in. So, I am interested in how you would propose to organize and present the data if we define upfront what the basic content areas are.

I would like to suggest that I will set up a demo infrastructure within the next couple of weeks; I noted down your wishlist of software components. Then you can have a quick look over the preliminary results and make proposals for modifications. I think this would be the best solution at all.

I think the gmat.gsfc.nasa.gov should become a simple, brief front end with high level overview and project description and a link to the new infrastructure. Most of the content on the web site would be moved to the new interface for ease of maintenance and public access.

In my opinion, it would be more convenient to users to make a direct redirection to the new project's infrastructure location using a server-side "HTTP/1.1 301 Moved Permanently"-redirect, instead of presenting additional text or information. Otherwise it could be another source for confusion.

shughes wrote:Our web site is back up if you would like to look at the contents: http://gmat.gsfc.nasa.gov/

Unfortunately, the website is not accessible for the public. The well-known "NASA IT Security Warning Banner" pops up if I try to open this website.

shughes wrote:René, is something like ScyPi beyond the scope of what you were thinking?

Definitely not! In fact, an project website like the SciPy front end is very easy to set-up.


If you agree, I will begin to set-up a demo and I will report back once I have finished a presentable stadium. Additional conversation should be done via e-mail, since user credentials need to be set up for the protected access to this demo infrastructure. I will write you a private message containing my e-mail address.


Regards,
René
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Re: Remarks on the General Open Source Concept of GMAT

Postby shughes » Sat Apr 28, 2012 11:21 am

René Schwarz wrote:Hi Steve,

In my opinion, it would be more convenient to users to make a direct redirection to the new project's infrastructure location using a server-side "HTTP/1.1 301 Moved Permanently"-redirect, instead of presenting additional text or information. Otherwise it could be another source for confusion.


We probably need some basic information at the nasa.gov domain for NASA policy reasons. I'll look into it.

René Schwarz wrote:Unfortunately, the website is not accessible for the public. The well-known "NASA IT Security Warning Banner" pops up if I try to open this website.

I've successfully loaded the web site from a public location. Can you make sure your not loading a cached page?

René Schwarz wrote:... project website like the SciPy front end is very easy to set-up. If you agree, I will begin to set-up a demo and I will report back once I have finished a presentable stadium. Additional conversation should be done via e-mail, since user credentials need to be set up for the protected access to this demo infrastructure. I will write you a private message containing my e-mail address.

This sounds great. Thank you. I look forward to seeing your work.

Steve
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