Fortran greybeards: Get your walking frames and shuffle over to NASA

Space agency has US$55k in prizes to those who can accelerate old code

NASA wants scientific computer experts to take a look at one of its oldest software suites in the hope they can speed it up.

The code in question is called "FUN3D" and was first developed in the 1980s. It's still an important part of the agency's computational fluid dynamics (CFD) capability, and had its most recent release in September 2016.

The agency is now sponsoring a competition with the aim of getting it to go at least 10 times faster. If you can crank it up to ten thousand times faster – without any loss of accuracy – all the better.

Michael Hetle, program executive at NASA's Transformative Aeronautics Concepts Program (TACP) explains that “some concepts are just so complex, it’s difficult for even the fastest supercomputers to analyse these models in real time. Achieving a speed-up in this software by orders of magnitude hones the edge we need to advance our technology to the next level”.

At the prize page, NASA's Dr Michael Rogers adds improved CFD will flow on to the rest of the aerospace industry, helping design more fuel-efficient, lower-emission aircraft.

Alas, the code is sensitive: only US citizens aged 18 and over are eligible to enter this competition, to comply with export restrictions.

Oh, and to be in the running for the US$55,000 prize pool (to be split between first and second place), there's one more thing you need to know.

The code's in Fortran – Modern Fortran, to be exact. ®

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