Thursday, January 22, 2015

OnSight: Exploring Mars virtually

Explore space without ever leaving the office.

That's the basic idea behind OnSight, a new device that will enable scientists to work virtually on Mars using wearable technology called Microsoft HoloLens. 

"OnSight gives our rover scientists the ability to walk around and explore Mars right from their offices," said Dave Lavery, program executive for the Mars Science Laboratory mission at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "It fundamentally changes our perception of Mars, and how we understand the Mars environment surrounding the rover."

This new device will take real information from the Curiosity rover to create a lifelike simulation of the Martian environment. This will allow for POV inspection of the rover's surroundings as opposed to an image on a screen. Scientists can then get a better idea as to the rover's relationship with the landscape and adjust the rover's mission from time to time.

All this happens by Curiosity team members wearing what's called a HoloLens device. This surrounds the wearer with images sent directly from the rover and overlays information across critical points in order to help inform decisions. The team members can then, as the JPL press release cites for example, stroll down a rocky surface or investigate a particularly interesting outcropping.

It is of course quite a leap from the usual NASA box of problem-solving tools. The technology involved is rather awe-inspiring in its own right. Normally that's the kind of thing that gets all my gray matter and pink parts tingly. So what's nagging me about this?

Irrationality, I'm thinking. When I see Mars-related announcements, I'm wanting to read about strides towards human missions. Yes, I know all about what Elon Musk is doing while I also understand that efforts such as OnSight are valuable, and likely rather cost-effective, tools that will help pave the way for such a thing. After all, it would hardly do to land a mission amidst a landscape that had not first been thoroughly surveyed.

Besides, I'll really be changing my tune if we can get an OnSight-capable probe on Phobos, Mars' moon. There's a monolith there, you know. And it might be hollow. Speculation also runs that it may be a spacecraft orbiting Mars, an alien "planetkiller" weapon, a previously mined asteroid (but by whom?), and all kinds of groovy babelism worthy of Richard Hoagland.

Seriously. Get OnSight to Phobos...or hell, to Cydonia...and let's see what's there. That will get all of these cover-up allegations out of the way.

Then again, would it perhaps stoke them or confirm them?

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets


  1. On FB, FrankR said: "Barring a decent economically affordable intra-solar system ship drive that can take us to Mars regardless of where Earth is in its orbit, plus a way to protect the crew/colonists from radiation, I'm afraid 'virtual exploration' is exactly what we have to look forward to. That said, if perhaps some horrible stellar catastrophe that we've detected early enough to force our hand to develop these things were to occur (yeah, terrible sentenced structure, that's why I'm not a writer), then we can be more sanguine about manned exploration."

  2. On FB, Dr. Rich said: "I can't wait for the HoloLens to be commerically available. It looks awesome."


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