This insanely cool NASA VR actually lets you walk on Mars

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Oct 25, 2017

It may be decades before humans actually walk on Mars (and it probably won’t be you unless you’re an astronaut), but a new mind-blowing collab between NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Google can virtually land you on the red planet—without a space suit.

Access Mars puts the reality in virtual reality by taking you to the red planet even if you’re lounging around in your pajamas. You might have already visited the worlds of Star Wars or Ghost in the Shell via VR headset, but the panoramic views of the Martian surface in this digital adventure aren’t just fantastical art. They are actually the same images transmitted to Earth by Curiosity as it rolls over the rocky terrain of the Red Planet.

"We've been able to leverage VR and AR technologies to take our scientists to Mars every single day," said JPL Ops Lab lead project manager Victor Luo, whose team at the lab led the collaboration with Google Creative Labs. "With Access Mars, everyone in the world can ride along."

NASA scientists used to be the only ones who could virtually explore Mars with JPL’s OnSight software. OnSight’s use of Curiosity imagery made it possible to follow the rover’s path over dunes, craters and valleys, get a macro look at Martian geology, plan future rover drives and even ditch the conference room for virtual meetings on Mars. When Google’s Creative Labs team was searching for ways to take VR out of this world, JPL scientists built Access Mars using Curiosity data and WebVR. The program has taken technology that was once NASA-exclusive and morphed it into an immersive experience accessible to anyone with Wifi.

"Immersive technology has incredible potential as a tool for scientists and engineers," Luo said. "It also lets us inspire and engage the public in new ways."

So where do you start once you virtually touch down on this frigid, no-atmosphere zone? The intro will take you through Curiosity’s journey from blastoff to its buzzed-about landing in 2012 and also let you in on what the rover does all day on alien ground. You can then choose your destination from four sites critical to the NASA Mars Science Laboratory’s mission: Curiosity’s landing site in Gale Crater, Marias Pass, Murray Buttes (you can zoom into scientific finds like mud cracks and rock outcrops in any of these three) and Pahrump Hills. Feel like you’re walking right next to the rover as you listen to JPL scientist Katie Slack Morgan talk about evidence of habitability. You’ll be able to venture even further as Curiosity’s progress on Mt. Sharp is periodically updated.

Star Wars can wait. You need to reset your destination to Mars, like, now.

(via NASA JPL)