Google And NASA Shoot for The Stars

Rich Tehrani : Communications and Technology Blog - Tehrani.com
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Google And NASA Shoot for The Stars

If there is one thing you must credit Google with it is building momentum. The company is in the news virtually every day with a new announcement or another. Not all the news is good as there has been an ongoing problem in the book publishing field regarding Google’s unauthorized scanning and indexing of books. A similar problem turned up in the TV industry where Google planned on recording TV programs and allowing people to search and possibly view them.

But problems aside it seems Google is running on all cylinders and has evolved from being a verb to one of the most commonly used words in the world.

We all know that massive amounts of miniaturization brought about by space flight has been partly responsible for the rapid advance humanity has experienced in computing. NASA is responsible for many products we commonly use. Well at least indirectly. When you think of products directly resulting from NASA’s efforts, you like me probably think of the
Tempurpedic mattress or if you are old enough you know Tang and Velcro were also invented for NASA.

But what has NASA contributed to society lately. Not too much. But this may be about to change as
Google and NASA have teamed up. The precise details are a bit sketchy but we know that Google will become a tenant in the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. Beyond just becoming a mere tenant Google will help sort through, organize and make available to the masses a bewildering amount of NASA data such as photos and other research.

Google will also have access to scientists who manage one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers – Project Columbia. Google may not have direct access but they will be able to potentially create new products such as 3-dimensional maps.

Google will also gain access to NASA's space data and imagery. Google already uses satellite imagery in its Google Maps service and for its Google Earth software. Google can now enhance the imagery with data about temperatures or crop patterns, said Peter Norvig, director of search quality at Google. The company is also interested in extending its mapping prowess to outer space, he said.
``We already have Google Earth,'' Norvig said. ``We'd like to have Google Mars and Google Moon.'' He continued ``I didn't realize how much content and information was trapped in the accumulated history of these organizations,'' Schmidt said. ``Imagine if our supercomputing power can be applied to the problem.''
Prior to Google’s entry into mapping the most popular options were MapQuest and Yahoo! Maps. To compete effectively Google has steadily made progress in making a better and better mapping product. Technologies like
AJAX have been used by the company to differentiate itself from other mapping companies and it’s Google Earth program too has been something relatively new and different in the mapping world.

If you are a Google shareholder you may be wondering how any of this translates into money. Indeed, we all know NASA is a huge contributor to the current deficit. Will NASA and Google be able to generate revenue from this relationship? Every taxpayer should want to know the answer.

Of course the answer is unknown but assuming Google is paying NASA for the privilege of working together then NASA is generating some extra revenue from this relationship. The next question is how will Google monetize this opportunity?

With massive data stores, Google will be able to further differentiate itself from other search companies. Who do Microsoft and Yahoo! partner with to compete effectively? The Russian and Chinese space programs? Even if they decided to do this the negative PR would be deafening.

With this differentiation comes prestige as Google has done something their competition can’t. Even if they can they will be second to the party.

So how does Google make money from all this? It is unclear. But there is one thing that is certain. With the ability to reach people across the planet easily and access to unique search technology and a slew of other software applications the company will have access to more ideas now. Brainpower if you will. Google has always hired very smart people. Many published reports explain that intelligence even trumps experience at Google. This massive store of brainpower has helped the company do many things such as launch a shopping comparison service Froogle, Google News, Google Sidebar, Google Talk and more. So now there is the ability to potentially tap into many thousands more scientists.

NASA could become the Bell Labs of Google. This is a very powerful concept – as long as Google can execute. Google will certainly have no problem executing in software as they have perhaps the best distribution system on the planet. Where they may have trouble is in the physical world where they may decide to get more active in providing broadband to customers. There are more opportunities for failure with these initiatives if the company isn’t careful.

There are no hard numbers being announced in this partnership that allow me to say this is a great financial decision for Google or not but the company has done extremely well turning ideas from bright people into money. How many more ideas are out there awaiting NASA and Google and how many billions more dollars will these ideas generate for Google and possibly the US taxpayer? Hopefully many as the US deficit can use any assistance Google can give it and I am sure Wall Street is going to want some results from this partnership as well.

Speaking of momentum, NASA needs some. This relationship is a real win/win for all involved as NASA too can claim they are more relevant than ever with this new partnership. Public opinion is crucial for NASA to continue receiving funding and Google may help NASA achieve more reach and generate more excitement for the space agency.

Of course the one area I didn’t delve into is the licensing opportunities that exist. I can see the t-shirt now… I Googled the Universe or Aliens Googled Me And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt. How about bumper stickers for that matter. I imagine the next space shuttle having a huge bumper sticker on the back that reads powered by Google.

All kidding aside, this agreement is at least a great PR opportunity for both NASA and Google and it is good to see both organizations shooting for the stars.



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