Prior to Microsoft announcing its augmented-reality headset HoloLens as a potential Minecraft peripheral, NASA was already using it to help remote teams across earth and space better communicate. This weekend NASA was to ship a couple of units of the spiffy under development headset to the International Space Station. There was only one problem: The shuttle supplying the tech blew up.
Thankfully, it was an unmanned vessel and no one was hurt.
"The astronauts are safe aboard the station and have sufficient supplies for the next several months," NASA said in a statement about SpaceX CRS-7's untimely demise a mere 139 seconds into its journey. "We will work closely with SpaceX to understand what happened, fix the problem and return to flight."
So what was NASA planning to do with the headset (besides possibly play Minecraft), you ask? The space exploration agency was hoping to use it in a project called Sidekick, which contains a "Remote Expert Mode" that would enable the ground team to see through the eyes of those in space (via Skype) and offer guidance by drawing diagrams and such overlaid over the astronauts' point of view.
It would also have a Procedure Mode that allow scientific communities around the globe map Mars by walking on its virtual surface.
I managed to test out both of these features when Microsoft unveiled HoloLens to the public in January. As such, I got to probe digital Mars for a hot minute and collaborate with a simulated scientist doing the same. Off Mars, someone used the tech to show me how to install a light switch by plugging into my headset and seeing the world through my eyes before drawing holographic instructions in front of me.
"HoloLens and other virtual and mixed reality devices are cutting edge technologies that could help drive future exploration and provide new capabilities to the men and women conducting critical science on the International Space Station," said director of NASA's ISS program Sam Scimemi on the NASA Blog. "This new technology could also empower future explorers requiring greater autonomy on the journey to Mars."