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/ Source: The Detroit Bureau

General Motors has turned to NASA to help determine whether it is safe for owners to continue driving the 2.6 million vehicles it has recalled due to an ignition switch defect.

That’s a critical question as GM awaits a ruling by a federal judge in Texas who could force the maker to ground all of the vehicles sold in the U.S. and provide temporary loaners to inconvenienced owners.

GM began recalling an assortment of compact models in mid-February, expanding it in several steps since then because of a shared ignition switch has been linked to 31 crashes and 13 deaths.

GM has asked NASA's help with a massive recall due to an ignition switch defect.JEFF KOWALSKY / EPA

This would not be the first time the space agency got involved in an automotive safety problem. At the behest of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NASA previously handled an investigation of alleged defects with millions of Toyota vehicles – ultimately finding no problem with the cars’ electronic control systems.

Ralph R. Roe Jr., the director of the NASA Engineering & Safety Center, is expected to lead the GM inquiry, a source told, confirming an earlier report in the Detroit News.

GM has declined to comment on the reports of NASA’s involvement in the defect dispute. “I will say what we have in the past, that we will draw upon an array of outside expertise to help guide us during this time,” GM spokesman Greg Martin said.

NHTSA officials were not available for a response.

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