SpaceX to blast Microsoft's HoloLens visors into SPAAAAACE

To boldly go where no augmented reality has gone before

A pair of Microsoft's HoloLens augmented reality goggles will be beamed up to the International Space Station on Sunday as part of the cargo in SpaceX's resupply mission.

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Astronauts will use the HoloLens kit to communicate with ground control and help with complex space station repairs. The two units on this trip are for testing only, but NASA would like to get its so-called Project Sidekick up and running by the end of the year.

"HoloLens and other virtual and mixed reality devices are cutting edge technologies that could help drive future exploration and provide new capabilities to the men and women conducting critical science on the International Space Station," Sam Scimemi, ISS program director at the US space agency said in a statement.

"This new technology could also empower future explorers requiring greater autonomy on the journey to Mars."

The headsets will be used in two modes for Project Sidekick. "Remote Expert Mode" will link the astronauts via Skype to technicians on the ground, who will then be able to see what's going on in the ISS and draw annotative notes that can be used to guide repairs, for example.

If a ground link isn't available, HoloLens can be put into "Procedure Mode," which can overlay instructions on what the 'naut is seeing. NASA reckoned this could allow untrained crew to effect repairs on damaged equipment they might not have an intimate knowledge of.

"Sidekick is a prime example of an application for which we envisioned HoloLens being used – unlocking new potential for astronauts and giving us all a new perspective on what is possible with holographic computing," said Alex Kipman, technical fellow of Windows and Devices Group at Microsoft.

NASA has been involved in the development of HoloLens pretty much from the start of the project. At the headset's unveiling at Microsoft's Redmond campus in January, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) demoed a system called OnSight it had built using photography from the Curiosity rover on Mars that allows you to wander around the Red Planet.

"Our team is excited to be building virtual and mixed reality tools that will make our explorers more efficient and effective," said Jeff Norris, project lead for Sidekick and OnSight at JPL.

NASA has also planned another use for HoloLens, but this time below the planet's surface in the Aquarius Reef Base 62 feet under the sea off the Florida coast. Its next NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations mission is due to start next month and will see Project Sidekick tested underwater. ®

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