NASA’s “Destination: Mars” is one of the most engaging combinations between virtual reality and space travel, allowing the user to take a tour of Mars with none other by Dr. Buzz Aldrin, the second person on the moon.
Viewers will also be guided by Erisa Hines, driver on the Curiosity Mars Rover, who will present the vehicle as well as real sites on Mars where important discoveries were made.
The virtual experience is based on imagery sent back to Earth by the Curiosity Rover, NASA’s car-sized robot which landed on Mars in August 2012.
The exhibition “Destination: Mars” is based on OnSight, a software tool co-created by Microsoft and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) for the Mars rover mission operations. Thanks to OnSight, NASA scientists have gained a more intuitive understanding of the area explored by Mars rovers.
Users who take the tour via virtual reality headset see exactly what scientists do when they look at imagery sent by the Curiosity Rover; they can also interact with a 3D simulation of the Martian surface and conduct science experiments from a first-person perspective.
Before OnSight, scientists working on rover operations were required to “examine Mars imagery on a computer screen, and make inferences about what they are seeing.”
Thanks to advancements in virtual reality, research is now done in a new way, allowing scientists to see clearly details of a planet over 100 million miles away from Earth – while sitting in their offices.
Dave Lavery, program executive for Solar System Exploration at NASA Headquarters, said that OnSight has “fundamentally changed our perception of Mars, and how we understand the Mars environment surrounding the rover.”
This is not the first time augmented reality has paired up with NASA to advance science. Microsoft has previously sent their AR headsets HoloLens to the International Space Station, where astronaut Scott Kelly tested it during his stay abroad the station.
Augmented reality creates a mixed reality experience by overlaying digital images on top of the actual environment surrounding you. After Kelly returned to Earth last month, he said VR has “a lot of potential when it comes to space exploration.”
Besides strategically partnering with Microsoft, NASA has also done the right thing involving Dr. Buzz Aldrin in the “Destination: Mars” project. He has proved to be one of the most convincing advocates for the efforts of landing humans on Mars.
With virtual reality, sending humans to Mars in the 2030s can become a more inclusive experience, allowing the public to follow the experience the astronauts will have as they study the Martian surface.
Image Source: Mars-One