NASA to use holographic glasses on space station

Microsoft’s HoloLens wearables will launch to orbiting station end of this month

NASA and Microsoft engineers test HoloLens glasses

NASA and Microsoft engineers test HoloLens glasses on NASA’s Weightless Wonder C9. Two pairs will be sent to the space station at the end of this month.

Credit: NASA

The International Space Station is going to be getting a little more like Star Trek.

NASA announced today that it is teaming up with Microsoft to enable astronauts onboard the orbiting space station to use the company's virtual reality headset.

Two pairs of Microsoft's HoloLens computerized eyeglasses are scheduled to be sent to the space station when SpaceX launches its seventh commercial resupply mission on June 28.

"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, NASA's director of the space station program, said in a statement. "This new technology could also empower future explorers requiring greater autonomy on the journey to Mars."

Microsoft unveiled HoloLens in January at a Windows 10 event where CEO Satya Nadella said the device will be the world's first holographic computing platform. The device is designed to allow users to see high-definition holograms with surround sound. They're also built to understand voice commands and hand gestures.

The project that NASA and Microsoft are teaming up on has been dubbed Sidekick and is focused on helping astronauts who need to perform various tasks off-Earth.

By using HoloLens, which look much like a pair of wrap-around sunglasses and are expected to ship on July 29 along with Windows 10, the astronauts should be able to perform some on-station tasks with less training and be more efficient in the work they're doing.

HoloLens, for instance, should allow technicians and engineers on the ground to see what the astronauts are seeing to help them to coach the astronauts through specific tasks.

The wearables also are expected to display illustrations on top of tools or objects astronauts might be working on to help guide them through an operation or repair.

NASA noted that scientists hope the wearables will one day be useful for deep space missions, in which communications with Earth could be difficult.

"Microsoft HoloLens is about transforming the ways you create, connect, and explore," Alex Kipman, technical fellow with Microsoft's Windows and Devices Group, said in a statement. "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."

NASA already has tested the devices on board NASA's Weightless Wonder C9 jet to make sure they work as expected in gravity-free environment.

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