NASA, Xerox collaborate

Marshall Flight Center: Benefits of the Space Program

Don't expect a copy machine that works on Mars, but NASA and Xerox Corp. are teaming up on information technology projects.

The relationship has already produced tools used in the investigation of the Columbia shuttle crash and a system called the NX Knowledge Network, which combines software from the Ames Research Center and Xerox's global research centers. NASA is using the fruits of the collaborative research for various missions and project teams at Ames.

One pilot application may help researchers at NASA's Astrobiology Institute determine if there is life on Mars. Researchers at the institute are using NX at Ames and on a distributed basis across a dozen universities. The network will also help manage risks, investigate accidents and analyze anomalies.

"Xerox gets some technology to develop into a [potentially] commercial product," said David Lackner, technology partnership manager at Ames, "and NASA gets a knowledge management system that we needed, a collaborative tool for collecting, archiving and retrieving a variety of data sets."

The space program has developed technology in the past that eventually filters into commercial products, such as microlasers and cordless power tools.

Randy Nickel, a business developer for Xerox, said the company would incorporate elements of NX into its products. He would not elaborate on the nature of the products but said specifics would be announced later this year.

"We tend to think of exotic missions to Mars when we think of NASA, but go one step deeper," he said, noting that the agency's technologies are very similar to what big companies require. "The problems are remarkably similar even though the businesses are different."

Nickel argued that NASA's research commonly yields real-world applications that Xerox's customers — companies scattered widely across the private sector — would find useful.

It's not unusual for NASA to work with the private sector, but Xerox is one of the larger companies to partner with the agency. Xerox has worked with the Bureau of Printing and Engraving and the Treasury Department on anticounterfeiting technology.

But the relationship with NASA marks the first true partnership for Xerox.

"Working with high-tech companies allows NASA to pursue its mission of space discovery in a more collaborative spirit, while taking advantage of the best technology the commercial sector has to offer," said Craig Steidle, NASA's associate administrator for exploration systems.

NX has already yielded taxpayer savings on research and development, officials said. The Xerox partnership costs NASA nothing, but Lackner said the agency likely would have spent about $2.5 million on a product like NX if NASA did the work on its own.

"Instead of NASA reinventing the wheel internally, we went and sought out this partnership with Xerox to combine our propriety technology with theirs," Lackner said.

"We will have the right to use it agencywide," he said. "We negotiated a very robust services and support package with thousands of user seats."

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