NASA funds interactive institute

NASA has awarded a contract potentially worth $379 million to a recently

formed nonprofit corporation to create an institute to conduct cutting-edge

research, develop new technologies and provide educational opportunities.

The National Institute of Aerospace is expected to be fully operational

in January. It is a joint venture between NASA's Langley Research Center

in Hampton, Va., and the newly formed National Institute of Aerospace Associates

(NIAA), which is composed of state universities and a nonprofit organization.

The education aspect could help NASA strengthen its workforce as it

faces an impending retirement wave and a shortage of students pursuing degrees

in science, mathematics and engineering.

The institute will offer master's degrees and doctorates at local sites

and via distance learning. It also plans to link the main campuses of partnering

universities to labs at Langley, building a virtual research space, according

to Charles Harris, director of the National Institute of Aerospace's management

office.

"It's going to be very innovative and highly interactive," Harris said.

"This is a new way of doing business for Langley. This is going to foster

much greater involvement by academia to fulfill NASA's mission. The emphasis

here is on collaboration."

The National Institute of Aerospace will be housed at Langley to facilitate

agency collaboration. Langley's partners, under the umbrella organization

NIAA, include the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Foundation;

the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University; the University

of Virginia; the University of Maryland, College Park; North Carolina State

University, Raleigh; North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University,

Greensboro; and the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta.

The procurement covers a five-year base period and has three five-year

options for extension. A five-year cooperative agreement also has been reached.

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