On 7 November 2016, visitors to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) could experience walking on Mars, explore a 3D prototype, and assist remote astronauts in performing complex procedures, all without leaving the room (let alone Earth).
Matthew Clausen, creative director of JPL’s Ops Lab, helped demonstrate the research and exploration capabilities of the Microsoft HoloLens, a Virtual Reality headset that can project virtual images of Mars through being hooked up to rovers and small satellites.
Presented to the audience were three applications of the Microsoft HoloLens.
The first, called Onsight, is a virtual reconstruction of the Martian surface that researchers can work in collaboratively and allows a more accurately measurement of angles and distances among specific Martian locations.
Project Sidekick, the second application, offers the opportunity for experts to guide astronauts on the International Space Station through complicated procedures, such as the steps of diagnosing and treating appendicitis, by watching the astronauts' actions and overlaying guidance, diagrams and extra information.
Finally, Protospace allows mechanical engineers to visualize and explore as a group detailed models of spacecraft and machinery in a true-to-scale manner as they’re being designed.
Virtual reality technology could enable millions of people to experience space travel and even play a role in gathering data by inspecting the surface virtually. The Microsoft HoloLens opens up space exploration to anybody who has access to this immersive technology, not just to researchers but also to schools, libraries, and those at home.
Whilst VR technology has been used to augment experiences, this technology goes beyond planetary boundaries to make sense of other planets, as well as increase understanding of our own.