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NASA Lets Scientists and Tourists Walk on Mars Using Microsoft 'HoloLens' Virtual Reality Program

May 25, 2016 04:05 AM EDT

NASA scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory wanted to find out how it is like to walk on Mars. NASA has teamed up with Microsoft to develop 'HoloLens' for this project.

With an abundance of data regarding the surface of Mars, scientists created a virtual reality program which allows people to walk on the surface of the Red planet. NASA used Microsoft 'HoloLens' technology to create the virtual reality tour of Mars.

NASA and Microsoft have been working on the HoloLens technology for some time now, a few months ago astronauts Scott Kelly and Tim Peake were filmed playing virtual reality 'Space Invaders' game using the HoloLens headset inside the International Space Station (ISS).

This summer, former astronaut Buzz Aldrin will lead the guided tour of Mars called "Destination: Mars". It is an interactive exhibit using Microsoft's HoloLens mixed reality headset.

With the 'mixed reality' concept, people can freely roam around the virtual reality environment which is enhanced by the presence of real objects.

"We're excited to give the public a chance to see Mars using cutting-edge technologies that help scientists plan Curiosity's activities on Mars today," said Jeff Norris, project manager for OnSight and "Destination: Mars" in a press release

Project Onsight, NASA's mixed reality tool, is developed with the help of Microsoft's HoloLens. It will change the way people view exhibits and science laboratories. Instead of just looking at artifacts, viewers can actually interact with objects within the mixed reality interface. This will make the journey to Mars a day to day thing for visitors and NASA scientists.

"My average day is that I go to the office, have my coffee, nip off to Mars for a little while, check out the latest location, write some code, and then I'm back home in time for dinner," Alex Menzies, the software lead for augmented and virtual reality development at the JPL, said in an interview with Motherboard.

The Onsight software program uses the data beamed back by the Curiosity Rover which is currently traversing the rocky surface of the red planet. The integrated data can be then viewed using the HoloLens attachment.

But the technology is not just created for tourists. This Microsoft and NASA's joint program will drastically help scientist in intuitively studying the surface of Mars by enabling them to walk on the surface instead of just looking at the photographs of the red planet.

"The goal is to enable scientists to explore Mars just like they would explore a site here on Earth," said Alex Menzies, lead developer of the project, in an interview with Popular Science.

For most people, this would be the closest thing to reaching Mars, the planet with the biggest potential of harboring human life.


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