Mars missions tested in virtual view
NASA is giving students and citizen scientists a chance to explore the surface of Mars – virtually.
The Mars 2030 Experience is a collaboration between NASA, digital news outlet Fusion, and MIT's Space Systems Laboratory, that will use immersive visual and audio technology to create a virtual reality version of Mars.
The developers say the experience will be as accurate as possible, using the mounds of data NASA has collected about the planet.
Users will be presented with mini-missions that should be similar to those that the first astronauts to land on Mars will be tasked with.
NASA says manned missions are lined up for around 2030.
“We saw this as an opportunity to share elements of our human Mars surface exploration concepts using today's advanced virtual reality technologies,” Jason Crusan, director of advanced exploration systems at NASA, told Fusion.
“We already use VR technology in astronaut training and spacecraft simulations, so it seems logical to extend that successful model to inspire and educate the next generation of space explorers and scientists in a captivating way.”
VR has been around for a long time, but with the rise of new devices like the Oculus Rift, Gear VR from Samsung and DIY kits based on Google Cardboard, the hardware and software are now becoming powerful enough to create an exciting an realistic experience in a headset that consumers can actually afford.
For anyone who does not have a VR headset, NASA is making a verison of its mars exploration app for iOS and Android that will show different vistas as the phone is moved in 3D space.
“We are excited to provide the expertise to help create an experience that will put the viewer right in the astronaut's seat,” Crusan said.
“We’ve been taking enormous care to provide the most realistic Martian environment possible, using real topographic data and accurate colour reference,” Justin Sonnekalb, a technical designer at Irrational Games who is working on the project, told reporters.
“Most images from Mars are either raw data that hasn’t been colour-corrected to match human eyesight, or has been tuned to reflect Earth’s lighting conditions because it both affords greater visual contrast and appears more natural.
“There’s something inherently cool about the authenticity of that, particularly with the additional immersion afforded by VR.”