NASA turns to graph database to help researchers and prove its worth to the taxpayer

NASA turns to graph database technology to improve knowledge discovery throughout the agency and better show its value in terms of the economy, education and patent creation.

By Scott Carey
Jan. 20, 2017

Meza would then like the database to be queried using natural language, and is even looking at Amazon's recently open sourced Lex toolkit to use voice search.

Meza is currently focusing on getting all of the research documents related to the international space station (ISS) into a graph database. The ISS acts as an orbiting research lab for the agency and crew members often conduct experiments in the fields of biology, human biology, physics, astronomy, meteorology, and other fields.

"We want to see how this impacts across academia and across the economy and industry. So patents developed, how the research impacts education and how to show to the taxpayer the value they get from the ISS," he said.


NASA is a federally funded agency which has seen its annual budget steadily fall since its heyday in the space race during the 1960s. It has a dedicated technology transfer programme but hasn't been great at sharing its success stories up to this point.

As administrator Charles Boden writes in his foreword for the latest Spinoff report: "NASA technologies can be found in your mobile devices, in self-driving tractors that work the fields, and in the latest 3D printers used by makers and hackers.

"They are making brain surgery safer and spotting rainforest fires before they spread. Spinoffs are even more diverse than the broad array of NASA missions they come from."

Graph allows Meza to easily incorporate external data, such as Thomson Reuters financial reports or the US patent office, to map the connections between ISS research and the outside world without having to constantly change the schema or re-interrogate the data. "With Neo4j if you don't like the model you can easily change it," Meza said.

Meza anticipates the entire project to take between three and four years to complete, starting with information relating to patents. He wants to be able to publish some insight into how many patents NASA contributes in the USA within the next six months.

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