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updated 3/8/2007 9:38:57 PM ET 2007-03-09T02:38:57

Long renown as a place for fun, Hawaii hopes to become a place for serious investment in space exploration with an agreement signed this week with the California-based NASA Ames Research Center.

The agreement to "investigate opportunities for collaboration" on space projects isn't about either the state or NASA spending any money; it's more about changing Hawaii's reputation, Gov. Linda Lingle said.

"As you know we've had such great success promoting ourselves as the world's greatest place to take a vacation. (But) it has worked to our detriment when we talk about serious issues, serious business issues or technical or scientific issues and an agreement like this ... says to the world, 'This is a place to be taken very seriously,'" she said.

Lingle said a change in the world's perception of the Aloha State is even more important as NASA's $16 billion annual spending on space exploration has been outpaced by private sector spending which now stands at $80 billion.

Isolated Hawaii has long been known as one of the best spots on the globe for viewing deep into space through telescopes operated by astronomers from about a dozen countries atop Haleakela on Maui and Mauna Kea on the Big Island. The two inactive volcanoes' top observatories also provide an edge to astronomers at the University of Hawaii, who have access to those telescopes as well as the university's own facilities at the summits.

While people in the industry and academia may know of the work being done at the islands' state university, many people outside Hawaii don't, said Lingle, who has been promoting a package of bills in the state Legislature to expand science and math education and develop new technology businesses in the islands.

Slideshow: Month in Space: January 2014 Countries throughout the Asian Pacific region, including India, China, Japan, Malaysia and Korea, are developing space programs, putting Hawaii in an important region for the space industry, said S. Pete Worden, director of NASA Ames Research Center.

Potential space-related industries include space tourism, communications, conducting biological research in space's zero gravity, tapping the moon for solar energy and installing lunar Internet cameras to recreate the experience on Earth of visiting the moon, he said.

The agreement signed Tuesday was called a "memorandum of understanding" and will enable officials to begin discussing specific areas of collaboration with the state, he said.

It calls for the state and NASA to develop programs supporting the space agency's plan to return humans to the moon and later travel to Mars, develop commercial space projects and boost research, education and jobs in the state.

"Over the next couple of days, I and my team will be visiting a number of centers to talk about things like small satellites, simulated centers and launch potential from Hawaii," he said.

From 1990 until 1994, former Gov. John Waihee's administration spent about $8 million to develop a commercial satellite-launching facility in Ka'u on the Big Island. The project was abandoned in the face of strong opposition from environmentalists and community activists.

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