If the closest you’ve ever come to exploring Mars is nibbling on a chocolate bar, you’ll likely be excited that, by putting on a Microsoft HoloLens mixed reality headset, you can now explore the Red Planet’s rocky terrain.
Yes, it’s very much a virtual experience – but also a great indicator of how far the technology has come, not to mention a hint at how much further it could go.
Introducing “Destination: Mars”
We all know the story of Neil Armstrong, the first man on the Moon – but, over the last 70 years, various strategies for human travel to Mars haven’t even left the planning stages. In 1985, Buzz Aldrin, who accompanied Armstrong on his Moon mission, began work on an ambitious Mars trip intended to ultimately help batches of astronauts to reach the planet.
That work hasn’t yet culminated in an actual manned journey to Mars, but Aldrin does appear as the holographic tour guide for members of the public sampling the recently-opened mixed reality experience “Destination: Mars”. Based at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, this Microsoft-NASA collaboration enables users to virtually walk around the Red Planet.
An “incredible” mixed reality experience
While we imagine that it could be a long time before Mars appears as a listing in your Virgin Atlantic brochure, trying out Destination: Mars could nonetheless leave you feeling like something of a space tourist. Several actual Mars sites have been recreated – and authentically, too, thanks to the use of hi-res imagery from NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover.
Earlier this year, at Microsoft’s Build developers conference, The Telegraph‘s Cara McGoogan went hands-on with Destination: Mars, which was said to be one of the San Francisco event’s most popular attractions.
The views of Mars, McGoogan reported, were “incredible” – and, while the HoloLens offers what is technically referred to as mixed reality, the Mars demo provided “the kind of immersive experience you’d expect from a virtual reality headset.”
Don’t hang about before your journey to Mars
Exciting though Destination: Mars is, it’s set to stay open to the public only until January 1, 2017. So, if you want to check it out, now could be a good time to start planning your trip to Florida! Upon reaching the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, you will have to reserve your timed slot for Destination: Mars – which, between the daily opening hours of 9:30am to 5:30pm, has limited availability on a first come, first served basis.
Also, if you wear glasses, as is likely if you’re reading this SelectSpecs blog, rest assured that you can comfortably keep those glasses on while wearing the Microsoft HoloLens headset.
Could Mars be in your 2017 itinerary?
However, even if you can’t get to Florida before January 1, there remains the distinct possibility of more opportunities to virtually explore Mars.
Microsoft has recently made the HoloLens headset available for preorder to UK businesses and developers – and, after it starts shipping in late November, it will be interesting to see what further use is made of the technology.
Plus, NASA is, in partnership with the US-based TV network Fusion, preparing to launch The Mars 2030 Experience, which will allow exploration of the Red Planet through Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR or Google Cardboard virtual reality headgear.
While Digital Trends says that a release date for The Mars 2030 Experience has yet to be provided, chances are that the next time you explore Mars, you won’t catch sight of a single chocolate bar.