Virtual passage to space


NASA is a pioneer in the use of virtual reality, thus it is used to expand the borders


How is it floating in the vacuum of space? “A huge, bubbling fondue pot with an amazing, very hot sauce,” American astronaut Jack Fischer said after making his first walk outside the International Space Station (ERA) on Friday.

He and his colleague Peggy Whitson starred on the walk Space 200 in the history of space exploration. It was engineering work of several hours that, in fact, they had already done in a controlled scenario of virtual reality. “They already knew where it was that they had to repair,” Evelyn Miralles, leader of the virtual reality program at NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center.

Whitson and Fischer’s mission included the replacement of a box that supplies the EEI with electrical and data connections and the installation of a pair of wireless antennas as well as a connector for the cosmic ray detector. Everything had been rehearsed to the millimeter.


Thanks to virtual reality, NASA can make sure that astronauts have a certain amount of experience before opening the space module’s gate and venturing to zero gravity, armed only with a suit and the cable that holds them attached to the ship. Today may seem obvious, but in the early 1990s virtual reality was no more than an experiment.

The first time it was put into practice was in 1993. One of the lenses of the brand new Hubble telescope was taking blurry images. The astronauts who took care of that corrective surgery were trained with a visor and virtual reality software developed by NASA. Miralles has worked in the area since then in the creation of graphics and simulations of space missions.


“Before, we trained astronauts with physical structures and pools, but virtual reality and computer graphics gave us a way to transfer them to an immersive and controlled environment,” said the engineer.

DOUG – Dynamic Onboard Ubiquitous Graphics – as it is called the software of Miralles, recreates a scenario in which the astronaut complies with his routine: without gravity, without friction, without heat and with all the details. This is used in four areas: for the training of extravehicular activities (space walks), for the use of the autonomous propulsion bag for free flight (called EVA), for robotic operations and for the manipulation of tools in zero gravity. The system links a series of sensors that track head movements, Chest and hands.

“When we train a three-dimensional astronaut, they remember much more easily what they should do when they are in the real situation.” “It’s not the same as seeing roles; they know where things are in the spacecraft. Virtual reality gives them an experience, “said Miralles.

More Apps

NASA uses commercial viewers for its research. Microsoft’s HoloLens are used in the construction of a new rover for Mars. In the virtual model the components are tested and simulations are run as if it were on the surface of the red planet. In addition, thanks to this device, operators on the ground see the same as the ISS crew, providing real-time guidance. Meanwhile, the PlayStation VR helmet helps in the management training of Robonaut-2, a humanoid robot that is used in the ISS for tasks requiring remote distances.

“We use virtual reality to design the next habitats we will build on the moon or for a new space station,” Miralles said. You can also experiment with Mars or asteroid environments.


Virtual brain

Evelyn Miralles, leader of NASA’s Virtual Reality Laboratory, is a specialist in the “Virtual Brain” episode of the second season of “Amazing,” which will air this Sunday at the 22nd National Geographic.

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