NASA Simulating Missions with Virtual Reality
Virtual reality technology has found applications in many sectors that cut across science, technology and art. Everyday people keep coming up with creative ways in which to exploit the capabilities of this technology and it is no surprise that NASA is already using it to further their goals and purposes. Two NASA crew member recently came face to face with an asteroid and the astronauts left their vehicle to float above the surface of the asteroid in order to explore it by collecting rock and soil samples. All of this they did without leaving the space habitat mockup at Johnson Space Center with the help of virtual reality.
The Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA) is a three story habitat mockup equipped with a flight deck, an airlock, medical station and living quarters designed for a small crew of four astronauts who will undertake a 30-day stint inside of the HERA. They will be embarking on a mission to test out the habitat’s prototypes and conduct various experiments.
“You can mimic isolation to some degree,” says Andy Self, Flight Analog Project Operations Lead. “Although the crew knows they are not really isolated from humanity, the communications delays and ban from social media help them to suspend reality. We mimic confinement and the stress that goes along with it.”
These four crew members will be living inside this mockup for 30 days on a simulated trip to an asteroid. This experience will be as close to reality as possible with the help of virtual reality and when the time comes for them to actually take the trip, they will be better prepared and equipped for the trip. This is one of the many ways in which NASA has taken advantage of what virtual reality can do. In the past, we have seen this technology used for flight simulations and various other related activities and this latest application is a more immersive and extended experience for these astronauts.
This is number three out of four campaigns with each increasing in duration. The previous campaigns used simulation software and virtual reality goggles to “fly” a spacecraft to the asteroid and during this campaign, the astronauts used the same VR gear to explore the asteroid which they collected samples to be analyzed later.
This intricate game of pretend may seem silly to the observer but the ultimate goal is to work out all the details and discover all the kinks and unforeseen eventualities that can occur during the actual real life missions that will send astronauts to asteroids by mid-2020. After these runs, NASA will eventually take of the training wheels and send its first crewed mission to Mars. This will be a significant achievement and the promise of what will be learnt and the data that will be gathered is very huge. With the help of virtual reality, the astronauts will be better trained and better equipped having sorted out most if not all that could eventually go wrong and the probability of success of these missions will be greatly improved