Friday, January 04, 2008

Virtual Worlds To Keep Martian Astronauts Sane? Authentic NASA Toys and Replicas

(Image Credit: NASA)

While NASA has dedicated hundreds (if not thousands) of scientists and engineers to ensure that the future humans traveling to Mars make it back to Earth in one piece, they have paid a lot less attention to the fact of them getting homesick.

In order to help lift their spirits (and perhaps counter cabin fever) NASA is considering building a "Second Life" virtual world that would enable them to communicate with friends and family.

( While aerospace engineers are designing the Ares rockets to be deployed in the Mars missions, a more starry-eyed contingent at NASA is testing networking and virtual reality technologies that they think will connect the first wave of Mars pioneers with their families, friends and colleagues back on Earth, in a 3-D virtual world cut from the mold of Second Life or World of Warcraft.

"We want to help our remote explorers 'phone home' in a way that lets them sit around a dinner table with their family, help their children with homework and analyze the latest findings with their Earth-bound peers," says Jeanne Holm, chief knowledge architect at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The initiative is the latest in the space agency's enthusiastic push into virtual worlds. In May, NASA set up its own island in Second Life to enable online collaboration on technology projects, and the agency is working to create 3-D simulations of the orange-red deserts of Mars, so astronauts can experience the Red Planet before going there.

Even though constructing this virtual world make sense for lunar astronauts, creating it for Martian explorers may be a bit over the top. Mars is approximately 20light minuets away from Earth, making such "virtual interaction" useless, at least in real time.

NASA would probably be better off designing a system allowing astronauts to post video messages to their family (and vice versa) than designing a virtual world for them to play in.

Note: If NASA however decided it needed to send video games in order to help the astronauts pass boredom, they might want to consider contacting this company.

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You can either visit the stars or watch them from afar.

But if you choose the former, you'll definitely get a better view.

~Darnell Clayton, 2007

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