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Can’t Go to Mars? NASA’s Holographic Glasses Could Be the Next Best Thing

One small step for Man… One awesome pair of holographic glasses for Mankind.

image via youtube screenshot

During this past Tuesday’s State of The Union address, President Obama oh-so-briefly touched upon an initiative that, if successful, could have a profound impact, not only for Americans, but for humanity as a whole. It’s not a tax plan, or a jobs proposal. The president talked about putting a human being on the surface of Mars.


Okay, actually he talked about sending Astronaut Mark Kelly into orbit for a full year – An exploratory mission designed to test the human body’s reaction to extended stays in outer space. But, the President explained, Captain Kelly’s year in space is part of a larger “re-energized space program that will send astronauts to Mars.” No matter how unglamorous spending a year in orbit may sound, Captain Kelly’s mission is hugely important for planning and preparing for any interplanetary travel. With our current rocket technology, it would take even our fastest ships years to get to the red planet, and actionable data on what happens to astronauts spending that much time in space is surprisingly scant. And while Captain Kelly spends his year testing the limits of physical endurance in outer space, NASA is already hard at work on another way of putting people on the surface of Mars.

Sort of.

“OnSight” is a new software, developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Microsoft, which will allow scientists and researchers on Earth to “see”—and even interact with—a Martian landscape projected in front of them, using real data from the rovers and satellites already in position on and around that planet. When used with Microsoft’s HoloLens headset (think Google Glass’ beefier, industrial cousin), users will feel as if they’re standing on the surface of Mars.

Explains Gizmodo:

Imagine being able to put on a headset and walk around another planet. Or control a rover as if you were sitting in it. Or look out over the yawning rim of a Martian canyon. That's exactly what OnSight does, using data and images taken from Mars itself.

According to JPL, it's the next best thing to actually being there—recreating the experience that earthbound geologists benefit from using augmented reality. That includes not only inspecting the landscape, but communicating with other scientists from around the world through this virtual meeting place

A statement from NASA expands on OnSight’s more interactive capabilities:

The OnSight tool also will be useful for planning rover operations. For example, scientists can program activities for many of the rover's science instruments by looking at a target and using gestures to select menu commands.

In other words, using data sent back to Earth from NASA’s Martian rovers, scientists and researchers will be able to holographically project themselves (and their peers) alongside the robot, and command it to dig, scrape, and scan the surface of the red planet. It may not be boots on the ground, but it’s an impressive step forward.

NASA expects OnSight to be put into active use for its Curiosity mission operations later this year.