Virtual Reality and the Future of Space Exploration

At Pax Prime 2012, Dr. Jeff Norris of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory gave a surprisingly emotional presentation, during which he shared his view of how space exploration may look in the future. He spoke of real-life holodecks and robotic avatars — a future in which we’ll all play a role in exploring other worlds.

We’re nearly there. The recent releases of the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive have got me wondering how this new tech, now that it’s finally in consumers’ hands, will shape education and science. Those of us who aren’t astronauts or NASA scientists will soon be able to explore these new horizons for ourselves.

Virtual Exploration

We already have some examples. Software like Universe Sandbox 2 VR allows us to interact with the universe in new, and often strange, ways. Watch here as one man shoots the Earth with powerful lasers to draw apocalyptic smiley faces:

But that’s small potatoes compared to what NASA has planned. Just look at Mars 2030, a virtual reality experience that promises to let you walk a segment of the dry, barren landscape of Mars, recreated using actual topographical data gathered by NASA.

This is, truth be told, what video games have always been to me. I can be the Dragonborn. I can be James Bond. I can be Dave, sneaking into the mansion of a mad scientist taken over by a sentient meteor. I can do anything! And virtual reality will only take us to even more extraordinary places, allow us to see, do, and be things we’d never imagined possible.

I’m ready. Personally, though, I’ll be waiting for the next iteration of the HTC Vive (and maybe a price drop) before making the jump. In the meantime, here are some ways you can explore the universe right now, with the computer you already have.

Rob Schwarz

Writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. Editor-in-chief of Stranger Dimensions.