Could VR Help Us Prepare to Colonize Mars?

 New VR experience Mars Home Planet aims to prepare us for a journey to the red planet

Concrete plans for sending humans to Mars haven’t yet been set but multiple projects, including the Dutch Mars One initiative are already building momentum. Although the systems that could take people to Mars will obviously be more advanced than trips to the moon, any journey will still present challenges moon-bound astronauts didn’t have to face.

Astronauts took about three days to make it to the moon. By comparison, travelers will take closer to six weeks to make it to Mars even planetary alignment is perfect. While en route, travelers will need to endure cramped quarters, difficulty with sleep cycles, and having to get along with others. Virtual reality can show travelers what the journey will look like, making it feel more comfortable when they finally embark.

How will humans adapt to an alien world for an extended period of time? Except for relatively short trips to the moon, no research exists. Experience in a VR simulation could help travelers prepare, and it can provide valuable feedback for researchers and those planning the mission.

Home Away From Home

Today’s virtual reality technology has advanced tremendously, and future advances will make the gap between virtual reality and the real world even smaller. HP, NVIDIA and their partners are hoping bridge the gap with their new Mars Home Planet simulation. The global project will simulate what a Mars colony could look like with a human population of 1 million in the near future. “We have our sights set on Mars,” says HP’s VP of product management for workstations Josh Peterson.

Through HP and partner technology, we are unleashing engineers, architects, designers and students to help anticipate and solve the real world problems we’ll face to inhabit Mars one day.

The simulation allows participants to experience and solve the challenges presented by urbanization on the red planet. The experience is set in the real-life location of Mawrth Vallis, which was handpicked by NASA as a potential landing zone  for future missions thanks to it being seen as relatively hazard-free. Engineers, developers and designers from the Launch Forth community will manage the project and companies including Autodesk and Technicolor

HP’s involvement in the Mars Home Planet project comes hot off the heels of its newly announced VR strategy and recently launched HP Z VR Backpack. Powered by its Z-series workstation technology, the HP Z Backpack is a first of it’s kind as it allows people to experience VR completely untethered, giving users complete freedom to roam and creating a much more immersive experience.

We recently met HP’s Gwen Coble to talk about the launch and the Mars Home Planet Simulation.

The backpack includes an NVIDIA Quadro P5200 GPU, making it the first mobile solution to pack a workstation-level graphics card. It also comes with a docking station that switches the device to a high-powered workstation, letting VR content creators transition between design and testing in seconds. These features illustrate HP’s intent to set the HP Z VR Backpack apart from other devices available as they lend well to the use of VR in business settings like engineering and design. Sean Young, HP’s Worldwide Segment Manager, Product Development & AE gave us a demo.

Traveling to Mars remains a distant dream for people interested in expanding the reach of the human race. However, virtual reality now offers us all a very real and immersive way to experience the red planet. Budding explorers can sign up for Mars Home Planet here.