As reported by Alizila, a news portal owned by Alibaba, Ma made this reference to the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration at the company's inaugural tech summit, which took place last week at its headquarters in Hangzhou.
Speaking to some 5,000 engineers plus thousands of other staff who participated via live stream, Ma reiterated his expectation that Alibaba will become the fifth largest economy in the world over the next 20 years.
Alibaba also aims to create 100m jobs and help 10m businesses to make a profit, and so it must invest further in the technologies necessary to meet this goal, he said.
"An economy that serves two billion people must be backed by solid technological capacity. To shoulder the future responsibility, we will build Alibaba's own NASA," Ma said.
"We will establish new teams to develop the core technologies of machine learning, chips, the Internet of Things, operating systems and biometric identification," he added.
But he also cautioned that Alibaba's enlarged technical teams should ensure they keep a discerning and independent eye when making judgments about the latest technology trends.
Much has been written recently about the role of robotics and artificial intelligence, but Ma insisted that machine learning should be about helping humans do things that otherwise couldn't be done.
He said machines should serve as assistants to humans rather than becoming rivals or robbing humans of pleasure.
By way of example, Alibaba has already developed various artificial intelligence software that provides personalised recommendations for shoppers on its Taobao and Tmall online marketplaces.
Elsewhere, its ET artificial intelligence service has been applied to help ease traffic congestion in Hangzhou while also assisting Guangzhou International Airport with flight management.
The question now is to what extent the company's new independent research and development teams will accelerate the introduction of new technology in the future.
Data sourced from Alizila; additional content by Warc staff