As NASA nears the launch of another mission to the Moon in 2024, and a subsequent mission to Mars in the 2030s, augmented reality is increasingly being woven into the normal space operations to test various capabilities.
The latest example comes via the current International Space Station (ISS) crew, several of whom are using the Microsoft HoloLens to carry out vital procedures.
Currently, crew members are engaged in the T2 Augmented Reality (T2AR) project, which uses custom AR software to allow the team to maintain and service the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill (COLBERT). The COLBERT is one of the onboard exercise mechanisms the astronauts use to maintain their muscle and bone health during weeks and weeks of extended time in an environment with no gravity.
Included in the project are NASA astronaut Megan McArthur, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi, and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet.
"AR tools hold the promise of allowing us to pre-package guidance and expertise," said International Space Station associate scientist Bryan Dansberry at Johnson in a statement on the NASA website. "The space station is the perfect platform to test out AR systems and refine these tools so they will be ready when future astronauts need them. Closer to home, these tests help to mature software and AR technology now so expertise and support are available in remote locations around the world."
One of the first times we saw the HoloLens used in space was back in 2016 when astronaut Scott Kelly appeared onboard the ISS wearing the immersive headset while floating in mid-air. That instance was NASA's Sidekick initiative, a very early experiment to see how the HoloLens might fare in a real space environment.
Also noteworthy is the fact that both the Sidekick project and this new TRAR demo of the HoloLens in space both use the HoloLens 1, which, when compared to the HoloLens 2, is fairly limited in functionality.
Therefore, the real fun will start when NASA begins using the HoloLens 2, and all of its next-gen immersive powers, as the primary AR device for space missions.