Sierra Nevada Corporation engineers and technicians prepare the firm's Dream Chaser engineering test vehicle for tow tests on a taxiway at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in Palmdale, California, June 27, 2013. REUTERS/Ken Ulbrich/NASA/Handou

In recent years, NASA has calculated how to send probes buzzing past Pluto and figured out a way to beam high-definition pictures back from Mars. Now the aerospace agency has turned to solve one of the more vexing challenges facing humans here on earth — getting airplanes to arrive on time.

NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate began testing its flight deck interval management software Thursday. The technology can enable planes to communicate with each other, reducing the distance needed between flights, shortening intervals between arrivals and shrinking the workload of air traffic controllers. The tests were being conducted by NASA and contractor Honeywell Aerospace with three aircraft over Washington state airspace. It was expected to continue for more than two weeks, a Seattle NBC affiliate reported.

The new technology would maximize efficiency in the U.S.' increasingly busy airspace by allowing planes to read data from nearby aircraft. The software can tell pilots to speed up or slow down, while ensuring a safe distance between planes, the station reported. Air traffic controllers have had to manually ensure planes give each other wide berths. But with this new technology, the space between planes could be reduced, which would increase the number of planes handled by air traffic controllers and reduce delays.

"[There will be] Fewer instances where you're put in a hold, or told to go vector and wait for other people to arrive and land in front of you," Honeywell engineer Rick Berckefeldt told KING 5 in Seattle. "There is certainly a safety benefit if you consider that the workload on the air traffic controller goes down."

To conduct the tests, a business jet equipped with the technology will fly in front of a 757 and 737 aircraft. The lead jet will broadcast speed and position information to the trailing planes, which will automatically calculate speeds and distances pilots should maintain to maximize efficiency, NASA said in a press release.