VR in Space: Walk a mile on the Curiosity Rover’s wheels

If you always dreamt of going to space, for a long time you had only three options: become an astronaut, get fabulously wealthy or wait around until trips to the moon become affordable to the masses. Luckily, virtual reality technology is bringing change to all industries, including space travel. It has made its way into training, control, engineering and popularization.

For example, today the ISS provides astronauts with a VR-based training system. Mobile virtual engineering centers enable developers to “enter” space vehicles and modules that are still under construction and work in a digital dimension, fixing and adjusting different elements of the interior.

In 2015, SpaceVR launched a project to allow any person to travel into space with the help of a smartphone and a VR headset. The company sent 12 GoPro cameras to the ISS to transmit 360-degree videos to the Earth. The team plans to send cameras to the moon and an asteroid, and then arrange transmission from a satellite and from Mars.

NASA extensively employs virtual reality to better acclimate its astronauts to the conditions they will experience once they enter space. NASA’s Virtual Reality laboratory trains astronauts in spacewalking as well. In the past, the problem with spacewalks was that you didn’t know what to expect unless you had experienced one before. That is why, in the mid-1980s, NASA researchers, in an effort to reduce mishaps, began researching a way to experience spacewalking here on Earth. Now, almost all astronauts who are deployed on the ISS know what to expect when they step outside their satellite. The VR laboratory provides a 3D model of the ISS. Using a combination of a headset, haptic feedback gloves and motion trackers, it gives the astronaut a virtual experience of being in outer space. Every segment of the station is modelled completely: with all its cables and components. So, when an astronaut wears the gear, they can go on a virtual spacewalk, grab objects and explore the space station in detail.

This allows them to familiarize themselves with the ISS’s outer structure so they can orient themselves more easily during an actual spacewalk.

As for more recent projects, NASA uses NVIDIA GPU technology, combined with Unreal Engine 4, consumer-grade VR, physical mockups and models, wearable technologies, and room scale tracking to create a so-called “Hybrid Reality System” that provides for extremely immersive and realistic training at a lower cost than traditional field tests. NASA has created a series of technology demos to showcase what Hybrid Reality can achieve. NVIDIA’s high performance GPUs allow NASA to create hybrid reality experiences that literally take people out of this world.

For two years, NASA scientists have been plotting the path of the Curiosity Mars rover using a Microsoft HoloLens mixed-reality headset and software called OnSight. A new website called Access Mars lets you explore Curiosity’s environs using a desktop computer, mobile device or AR/VR headset. While scientists can use OnSight to plan Curiosity’s path or do free wandering, the public has a more limited view of Curiosity’s previous locations and path.