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NASA Needs Federal OK to Study GM Ignition Flaw

NASA says it's not helping GM with the technical issues surrounding an ignition switch defect that has sparked the recall of 2.6 million vehicles — but it stands ready to assist other federal agencies with their investigations.

The switch defect can cause the engine to turn off unexpectedly, and that's been linked to dozens of crashes and at least 13 deaths. The issue has been the focus of an investigation by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, stormy congressional hearings, lawsuits and a Justice Department probe.

NASA's engineering expertise can come in handy for such investigations. In 2011, at the behest of the NHTSA, the NASA Engineering and Safety Center issued a report concluding that faulty electronics were not to blame for the unintended acceleration of Toyota vehicles.

NASA could take on a similar role in the GM case: A source at GM who is familiar with the recall investigation told NBC News correspondent Gabe Gutierrez that the details of any cooperation with NASA were "being worked out." The source said there were plans for GM officials to meet with NASA next week but provided no further details.

For now, "NASA is not working with GM on its ignition switch issue," agency spokesman Chris Rink told NBC News.

Another NASA representative, Bob Jacobs, explained that it would be difficult for the space agency to assist GM directly. "That would require considerable interagency coordination, just because of the existing investigations," Jacobs told NBC.

It's more likely that NASA would respond to a request for help from the NHTSA. "If the investigating agencies asked for assistance, we would provide help as we have in past instances," Jacobs said.

NHTSA spokeswoman Kathyrn Henry said that "it's logical" to ask NASA for technical help if it's needed, but that the investigation was still in its early stages. "We're in the process of receiving the requested documents from GM," she told NBC News.

NBC News' Gabe Gutierrez contributed to this report.