The US space agency and tech giant Microsoft have teamed up to create “Destination: Mars”, a guided tour of Mars using the same Hololens headset technology that helps scientists plan the Curiosity Rover’s activities on the Red Planet.
It will offer people a guided tour of an area of Mars with astronaut Buzz Aldrin this summer in an interactive exhibit using the Microsoft HoloLens mixed reality headset.
“Mixed reality” means that virtual elements are merged with the user’s actual environment, creating a world in which real and virtual objects can interact.
The “Destination: Mars” exhibit will open at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center’s visitor complex in Florida this summer, the US space agency said in a statement.
Guests will “visit” several sites on Mars, reconstructed using real imagery from NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover, which has been exploring the Red Planet since August 2012.
Aldrin, an Apollo 11 astronaut who walked on the moon in 1969, will serve as “holographic tour guide” on the journey.
Curiosity Mars Rover driver Erisa Hines of JPL will also appear holographically, leading participants to places on Mars where scientists have made exciting discoveries and explaining what we have learned about the planet.
“This experience lets the public explore Mars in an entirely new way. To walk through the exact landscape that Curiosity is roving across puts its achievements and discoveries into beautiful context,” said Doug Ellison, visualisation producer at JPL.
“Destination: Mars” is an adaptation of OnSight, a Mars rover mission operations tool co-developed by Microsoft and JPL.
A pilot group of scientists uses OnSight in their work supporting the Curiosity Mars rover’s operations.
“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,” added Jeff Norris, project manager for OnSight and “Destination: Mars”.
“While freely exploring the terrain, participants learn about processes that have shaped this alien world,” he added.
Abigail Fraeman, a Curiosity science team member at JPL, uses OnSight to make recommendations about where the rover should drive and which features to study in more detail.
Recently OnSight helped her and a colleague identify the transition point between two Martian rock formations which they would like to study in further detail.
By utilising the same technologies and datasets as OnSight, “Destination: Mars” offers participants a glimpse of Mars as seen by mission scientists.
“By connecting astronauts to experts on the ground, mixed reality could be transformational for scientific and engineering efforts in space,” Norris said.
As NASA prepares to send humans to Mars in the 2030s, the public will now be able to preview the experience the astronauts will have as they walk and study the Martian surface.