Virtual reality promises to be a valuable tool for various industries, many of which are already beginning to utilize it in the workplace. In fact, one major organization that is a leader of its field is already taking advantage of virtual reality not only in the workplace, but for space exploration as well – NASA.
It is no surprise that NASA, an organization that seeks to continuously expand our exploration of space, would seek to utilize all resources available to them. Their applications of virtual reality serve to both train astronauts on Earth, as well as assist them during their space travels.
Traditionally, NASA has used quite costly methods of training to prepare astronauts for space travel. From the zero-gravity rides on airplanes (also known as “vomit comet” rides), to underwater buoyancy simulations. While these methods offered a modest amount of preparation for astronauts, they also have their limitations.
Virtual reality has provided NASA with additional resources to overcome the various limitations of traditional training. For example, virtual reality simulations are now providing astronauts with realistic zero-gravity environments, where they engage in activities varying from routine maintenance, to responses to emergency situations. The virtual reality technology is combined with a crane-like device that further assists in simulating a realistic off-world experience. Practiced astronauts who have tried the simulator said it is strikingly similar to their experiences in zero-gravity.
While these virtual reality simulations are more effectively preparing astronauts for space travel, other applications of this technology are assisting those astronauts already in space. In 2015, Microsoft collaborated with NASA to provide them with two “HoloLens” headsets on a shuttle traveling to the International Space Station. This cutting-edge technology was not even released to the general public until a year later.
Headsets allowed ground controllers to view various tasks from the astronaut’s point of view, allowing them to more efficiently provide guidance to astronauts. This project, termed “Project Sidekick,” reduced projects that had previously taken the astronauts several hours to complete, down to as little as under an hour due to improved assistance from ground control.
Over the last couple years, the HoloLens has developed into a far more verbose assistance for space travels and tasks. One project, termed “OnSight,” is a virtual reconstruction of the surface of Mars. This project was developed with the intent to allow astronauts and other NASA staff to more effectively plan out Mars exploration.
Compared to the previous panoramas used by NASA staff, OnSight has shown itself to double the accuracy researchers can obtain regarding distances and has tripled their accuracy when determining various angles on the planet’s surface. One particular advantage the virtual reconstruction poses over the panoramas is that it allows researchers to “climb” up various hills on the surface to gain a better perspective and spatial awareness of the surrounding area.
Virtual reality promises to expand beyond the scope of assisting NASA’s staff into our own homes on a broad scale. Thanks to the ever-advancing technology related to virtual reality, soon people all over the world will have access to a first-person perspective of space exploration. Gone are the days where space exploration was limited to a select few.
In the near future, people from all over the world will be able to visit space at their local libraries, schools, and even in their own homes, all thanks to virtual reality.