Google to index content for federal space agency

Google soon will index content from outer space as part of its search services, according to National Aeronautics and Space Administration officials.

The NASA Ames Research Center and Google, which are Silicon Valley neighbors, on Monday revealed the details of a partnership formed in fall 2005. The pair will focus on public access to useful NASA information, including three-dimensional maps of the moon and Mars, and real-time tracking of the International Space Station and space shuttle.

NASA said Ames and Google signed a formal agreement to jointly address technical problems ranging from large-scale data management to human-computer interaction. "This agreement between NASA and Google will soon allow every American to experience a virtual flight over the surface of the moon or through the canyons of Mars," NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said.

The joint venture will be the first in a series of collaborations, NASA officials said. Future goals include incorporating NASA data sets into the Google Earth satellite imagery service and applying Google's search features to scientific data.

"Partnering with NASA made perfect sense for Google, as it has a wealth of technical expertise and data that will be of great use to Google as we look to tackle many computing issues on behalf of our users," said Eric Schmidt, chief executive officer of Google.

NASA has collected more information about earth and the universe than any other entity in history, but the vast majority of the data is difficult for non-experts to access and understand, Ames officials said.

A year ago, NASA disclosed that Ames would share computer scientists and office space for information technology projects. NASA officials had said they needed Google's search power to avoid an information overload. On Monday, Ames employees reported evidence that the envisioned alliance is taking shape.

"The building of the Google campus on the NASA facility has been progressing, and there was a reception for Google and NASA partnerships on Friday, so perhaps things are becoming more solidified," said Chris Knight, vice president of negotiations at the Ames Federal Employees Union and an intelligent systems division employee. He said Google also will fund some NASA research with company money.

Space enthusiasts say the venture underscores the potential for participatory space exploration.

"Google is the way the earth interacts with information now," said George Whitesides, executive director at the National Space Society. The Google-NASA union will enable the public to connect with space exploration in general, he said.

There are risks involved whenever a government agency affiliates itself with a commercial enterprise, Whitesides said. But he added, "If I had to pick a brand to be associated with, I would certainly think that Google would be near the top of the list."

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