NASA Nurses Next 'Net

NASA will be the birthplace of the Next Generation Internet, which will allow information to be passed from computer to computer a million times faster than today's standard 28.8-kilobits-per-second home computer modems.

Just as the original Internet grew out of a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) network, the Next Generation Internet, or NGI, will grow from a network linking five NASA sites. The NASA network is the fastest segment of the Internet today, with information traveling at 155,000-kilobits-per-second now and 622,000-kilobits-per-second by next year. Within a few years NASA plans to upgrade its network to 2-gigabits-per-second, or 2,000,000-kilobits-per-second.

Five other agencies are working with NASA to speed up the travel of information on the portion of the Internet used by the federal research community: Darpa, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The federal government is spending $300 million over the next three years to develop the NGI.

"The federal government is going to hook up about 100 universities, research labs and other institutions at a hundred times the speed of today [155,000-kilobits-per-second]," NASA Program Manager Bill Feiereisen said.

Christine Falsetti, the NGI Project Manager at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., said her team's projects include looking at ways to reduce bottlenecking on the Internet, researching all-optical networks, and exploring multicasting techniques to consolidate Internet traffic.

"We want to guarantee levels of service that will eliminate slowdowns and network stagnation that users sometimes have to endure now while waiting for Internet images, movies and other services," Falsetti said.

Falsetti said the government expects private investment in the NGI that is at least at the level of, if not more than, the federal government's investment. In May, industry, government, and academic experts will gather in Washington to discuss expansion of the NGI.

President Clinton endorsed the NGI in his State of the Union address.

"We must build the second generation of the Internet so that our leading universities and national laboratories can communicate at one thousand times faster than today," Clinton said.

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