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NASA has called on the omnipresence of Google to help it manage the profluence of data it expects to splurge forth from its Moon and Mars missions.

The Space Act Agreement, signed yesterday, will see Google brought in on an array of NASA computing headaches, including storage, massively distributed computing, and human-computer interfaces.

Details were scant as ever with Google, but the agreement will see collaboration on Google Earth-style public access projects. In a statement, the cluesome twosome revealed they will work on "weather visualisation and forecasting, high-resolution 3-D maps of the moon and Mars, real-time tracking of the International Space Station and the space shuttle". Some sort of virtual space exploration application is on the cards it seems.

NASA administrator Michael Griffin said: "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." Those lucky Americans.

Google's first mission is to make better use of what's already available from NASA online. Chris C Kemp, director of strategic business development at NASA's Ames Research Centre, said: "NASA has collected and processed more information about our planet and Universe than any other entity in the history of humanity. Even though this information was collected for the benefit of everyone, and much is in the public domain, the vast majority of this information is scattered and difficult for non-experts to access and to understand."

NASA will look to plug into Google's unrivalled data centre spend. In a conference call yesterday, the pair announced an agreement for Google to build a one million square foot data dungeon at the Ames Research Centre in California. The firm is headquartered not far from Ames, which was set up in Silicon Valley with the aim of tapping the region's role as a magnet for the best computing brains.

The centre recently said it had been forced to cough $3m in unexpected bandwidth and storage capacity upgrades to make its Columbia supercomputer feel at home. The top brass at the centre have long been making noises about the need for more private sector involvement.

Other than the obvious publicity coup, what's in the deal for Google? CEO Eric Schmidt rubbed his magic Christmas panto quote lamp: "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."

Some sort of boffin mindshare scheme would seem to be part of the pact, then. ®

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