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Hopeful Martians can now visit the Red Planet via Microsoft's HoloLens

We’ve seen a number of uses for Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented reality headset, ranging from training soldiers on the battlefield to playing a virtual game of Yu-Gi-Oh! Now Microsoft’s technical marvel is being put to use at the Kennedy Space Center to send visitors to Mars. Given that most humans will never set foot on the toxic Red Planet, this virtual trip will be their only means of visiting the neighboring world.

The exhibit is called Destination: Mars, and will showcase the Red Planet until January 1, 2017. It’s based on images captured by NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover, which is a car-sized robotic rover that began rolling across the rocky Martian surface on August 6, 2012. The exhibit is presented by a holographic version of Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin who is accompanied by Curiosity Mars rover driver Erisa Hines.

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“At NASA, we’re excited to apply mixed reality technologies to the challenges we’re facing in space exploration,” says Jeff Norris, project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Through a collaboration with Microsoft, we’re building applications to support engineers responsible for the design and assembly of spacecraft. Astronauts working on the International Space Station and scientists are now using our Mars tool OnSight in mission operations.”

Revealed back in January, OnSight allows scientists to virtually work on Mars using Microsoft’s HoloLens headset. This tool uses real data provided by the Curiosity rover to generate a 3D version of the Martian landscape, providing a first-person perspective of the rover’s work site. Scientists from around the world can converge on this virtual terrain and extend the rover’s mission by creating new activities and then previewing the outcome before actually moving the rolling robot.

Because it mixes virtual reality with actual reality, HoloLens creates the holographic Martian landscape in the wearer’s field of view. The terrain stays in place, allowing wearers to virtually walk across the hostile Martian surface. This provides scientists and engineers with the means to view Mars naturally, allowing them to examine rock groupings from multiple angles, for instance. What they won’t experience is getting red iron oxide on their shoes or breathing an atmosphere comprised mostly of carbon dioxide.

In January, NASA said that OnSight would be used with Curiosity mission operations sometime in late 2016, followed by possible Mars rover mission operations in 2020. However, right now, NASA is apparently also using this HoloLens tool to present Mars as a mixed-reality experience to visitors of Florida’s Kennedy Space Center until the end of the year.

Destination: Mars is currently available as a pop-up theater in the main visitor complex. It’s included with the daily admission, but requires a reservation once visitors arrive. Aspiring Martians ages 13 and older can find the reservation counter seated next to the bus tour entrance with an attendee who will hand over a card with a reserved time. These reservations are served up on a first come, first served basis, and the show itself will have a limited availability each day. All scheduled visitors must arrive to the exhibit 15 minutes prior to its start.

Call 866.737.5235 for more information from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET.