Missions to Mars. This concept has long been a part of science-fiction and for years, it has been little more than a pipe dream apart from the occasional NASA rover update. But all that could be changing. Technology is racing forward and humanity hasn’t given up on the dream of taking to the stars and reaching, exploring and ultimately colonizing the Big Red Planet.
This is much easier said than done. A manned mission to Mars has never been accomplished outside of sci-fi books and estimates in 2014 were that we could see such a quest come to fruition by 2035. While such a trip will fall well within our lifetimes, virtual reality tech may play a part in speeding up progress a bit.
What kind of VR tech are we talking about?
NASA is looking at utilizing virtual reality smart glasses to drastically cut down on equipment loads, costs and danger levels for, among other things, a prospective mission to Mars. In the cold recesses of space, every pound of equipment an astronaut carries is crucial to his or her survival.
The idea here is that the use of VR smart glasses could perform a variety of functions that astronauts would otherwise need cumbersome equipment for. If the tech is everything it’s shaping up to be, it could dramatically cut back on the load and make missions far safer and more feasible in execution.
So what can these glasses do?
A better question would be “What can’t they do?”. On a typical mission, an astronaut carries around 15 pounds of manuals and technical journals for reference. While that’s not a tremendously heavy load, that 15 pounds can mean the difference between life and death on a long-term mission like a voyage to Mars.
For instance, astronauts can access navigation information, like star charts, maps and readouts in real time on the glasses, similar to the cockpit heads-up display used by pilots. Such a function would save astronauts that 15 pounds by allowing them to leave behind the cumbersome amount of technical journals and papers they usually have to keep on hand. If there are seven astronauts on a mission, all equipped with these VR glasses, that’s 105 pounds of food, water, air, and/or fuel, all essential life-sustaining resources, that can be shipped in place of manuals.
The practical applications of this tech are nearly unlimited. Ground support teams would be able to see, in real time, everything the astronaut is seeing through video. Rather than needing to transport a huge boulder for study, astronauts could scan and measure the rock and catalog where it was found and then chip off a small fragment for research.
What other fields could this tech be utilized in?
Again, the possibilities are nearly limitless. The U.S. Air Force, just last spring, said that it was testing the usefulness of Google Glass for pilots, battlefield coordinators and even medics. Fully optimized, the tech could provide real-time information, entirely hands free, that could be decisive in a combat situation.
Battlefield radar, medical scans and analysis, coordination of troop movements; and those are just military applications for VR glasses. While it all still sounds like science-fiction, the tech is very real and could drastically change the way we approach healthcare, military operations and space exploration.
How would this tech bring us closer to a manned mission to Mars?
Simply put, it opens a ton of possibilities for astronauts. The reduction of weight would cut back drastically on the danger involved with such a long-term mission and the ability to access and share volumes of information in real-time, all on a hands-free display, is crucial to making such a mission possible in the first place.