Advances in virtual reality are creating remarkable opportunities for individuals to immerse themselves in worlds that are impossible, unlikely or simply out of human reach right now. Mars 2030, a new interactive, virtual Mars experience, would allow people to simulate life on the Red Planet. The project, a collaboration between NASA, multi-platform media company FUSION Media and MIT’s Space Systems Laboratory, is expected to debut at South by Southwest in March 2016.
“Simulated environments have always been important in astronaut training,” said Jason Crusan, Director of NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division.
Today, physics-based simulations are helping NASA mission planners on the Journey to Mars, providing virtual environments to test vehicle and system performance in simulated deep space environments. NASA has relied heavily on mission simulators to prepare astronauts for every conceivable contingency. Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo crews spent one third or more of their total training time in simulators. Lunar landing crews used simulators for more than half of their training time.
The Mars 2030 Experience will be available at no cost for the Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard, and Samsung VR Gear via Valve’s Steam marketplace and on Fusion.net. It also will be available for iPhone and Android on iTunes and Google Play. A broadcast of the experience will also be available on Twitch.
“Beyond practical uses for training, virtual reality offers us a compelling method to share the work we’ve been doing to design sustainable human missions and to inspire the next generation of pioneers in space,” said Crusan. “We’re grateful for the opportunity to bring FUSION’s virtual experience as close to reality as we know it based on years of Mars surface architecture studies.”
The partnership with FUSION is arranged through a nonreimbursable Space Act Agreement. Through the agreement, NASA provides technical expertise to FUSION, and will share the results of ongoing studies on space transportation systems, concepts of operations, and human health and performance. While still early in formulation, this partnership makes possible the first virtual reality Mars surface experience using actual operational and hardware concepts that NASA and MIT are studying today.