Few large organisations have taken such a keen interest in the possibilities of virtual reality (VR) from an early stage as NASA have. It would be difficult to find an organisation that has been so varied in its approaches.
Well before this generation of head-mounted displays (HMDs) were on the way to retail NASA have already been experimenting with multiple headsets. Back in August 2015 it was revealed NASA were one of the very first organisations to get hands-on with Microsoft’s HoloLens technology, testing the device with astronauts in their underwater lab. The HoloLens was also sent to the International Space Station (twice, after the first was destroyed in a rocket explosion). NASA has teamed up with Sony and its PlayStation VR HMD to help find a way to control the humanoid-like robots. They’ve teamed with fusion, to create Mars 2030 for Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard. Whilst the HTC Vive has also been used in some degree of testing by astronauts and scientists.
Now though NASA is using the HoloLens to allow visitors to the Kennedy Space Center visitor complex a chance to see into the future. The previously announced Destination: Mars experience which takes visitors on a trip to see just what future martian visitors will get to see and explore, is now open. Apollo 11’s Buzz Aldrin was guest of honour at a ribbon cutting ceremony just over a week ago and the exhibit will be available through to New Year’s Day in 2017.
Destination: Mars is a mixed reality (MR) experience which uses real data collected by NASA, including photos and imagery collated by NASA’s Mars rover, Curiosity. So it is exactly like you were standing on the red planet. Aldrin and Curiosity’s “driver” Erisa Hines also appear as part of the experience acting as guides around the planet.
“The origin of Destination: Mars is part of what makes it so authentic and unique.” Confirmed the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s (JPL’s) Jeff Norris. “Everything you see in the experience came directly from our spacecraft.”
Speaking on the partnership Microsoft HoloLens’ General Manager Scott Erickson commented, “We’re thrilled to partner with NASA JPL in enabling a whole new way for its scientists to study Mars via Microsoft HoloLens, and now we’re excited to finally offer the public a glimpse into NASA’s use of this transformative technology.”
“Technology like HoloLens leads us once again toward exploration. It’s my hope that experiences like Destination: Mars will continue to inspire us to explore.” Said Aldrin on the launch.
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