Virtual Reality for Space Exploration

Yesterday I was able to attend a panel discussion on virtual reality at the Humans to Mars conference in Washington, DC. This post will summarize only the technologies discussed in the panel, so there are sure to be some other things out there not mentioned in this post.

OnSight from JPL and Microsoft


OnSight is a mostly immersive virtual reality program built by JPL for the Microsoft HoloLens. Scientists and rover drivers can put on the headset to view the Martian surface in the vicinity of the rover's current position. It is apparently easier to locate and discuss rocks in immersive 3d than by attempting to point to a specific rock in some regular old jpeg. I have not seen an actual screencap of the software; my internet searches only turned up their promotional material. But even if the actual imagery is less cool, I like OnSight a lot for what they are doing with collaborative virtual reality.

Mars 2030 from Fusion

Mars 2030

Mars 2030 is a game where you get to be an astronaut on Mars. It will be released in 2030, wait, I mean November 2016. It seems to be funded well enough to deliver an awesome experience for the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and desktop if you don't have either. The dev mentioned they may also release it for cardboard and they also want to do a multiplayer mode, though it sounded like none existed yet.


ANSIBLE view of The Library and The Club

ANSIBLE is like the holodeck on Star Trek. It's a virtual world that lets you escape the stress of being shut in a tiny metal can, or just escape your crewmates for a while. In the screenshot above, you can see the Library and The Club, but there are many more places to explore. More than that, though, it is designed to be a shared experience where you can interact asynchronously with your family members back on Earth.

To me, ANSIBLE would be super valuable as a world filled with secrets waiting to be uncovered. Instead of being told "With the latest software update we have introduced another room," I think I would get a kick out of discovering new rooms independently.

ISS VR Training

Dave Lavery talked to us about how NASA wants to use VR to train astronauts. He showed us some demos where astronauts used handheld wands to interact with the virtual ISS, like place items on racks and screw in components. Apparently the sim is highly realistic, which I think would be great for emergency training or testing, like the Kobayashi Maru.

Other fun facts

Astronaut with a laptop strapped to his face

Astronauts can strap laptops to their heads in space because there's no gravity.

© Peter Brandt 2019 | all images in public domain unless otherwise stated