MarsXR: A Virtual Reality World To Help Astronauts Plan Their Future Mars Expeditions

  • MarsXR is a metaverse simulation of the Red Planet
  • MarsXR features 400 km2 of realistic Mars terrain
  • NASA is looking for developers to help build its MarsXR

The independent U.S. agency National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is creating a Martian metaverse dubbed MarsXR to recreate the Red Planet, and its environment and "to prepare for the experiences and situations that will be encountered" on the soon-to-be-Earth-colonized planet.

NASA, along with XR simulation and production studio Buendea, video game and software developer Epic Games and NASA Tournament Lab posted a challenge on the crowdsourcing problem-solving platform Herox to entice developers to help build the metaverse to be used for training purposes.

The U.S. space agency launched the "NASA MarsXR Challenge," which challenges developers to "Build Virtual Reality (XR) assets and scenarios for use by NASA in research focused on extravehicular activities (EVA) on the surface of Mars." This will be utilized to "test procedures and plan for conditions while on Mars. The goal is to create an immersive, engaging, and realistic experience."

A couple of trainee astronauts walk in their spacesuits during a training mission for planet Mars inside the Ramon Crater in Mitzpe Ramon in Israel's southern Negev desert

image

The development of the MarsXR metaverse has already started and now features 400 km2 of realistic Mars terrain, night/day cycles, "realistic weather conditions and Martian gravity" and assets like suits and rovers, built on Epic Games' Unreal Engine 5. The challenge has five different categories with each category featuring certain scenarios including, "Set Up Camp, Scientific Research, Maintenance, Exploration and Blow Our Minds."

The total reward is $70,000, which will be divided among 20 individual prizes. So far, there are over 25 teams and 265 developers who jumped into the Martian metaverse simulation.

"Teams may submit multiple submissions in each category and submit to multiple categories. Each submission should be materially different from the other submissions the team has made in relation to content and focus. Teams are eligible to and may win more than one award," NASA said.

"Creators can use Unreal Engine to build realistic simulation scenarios to help prepare NASA for future missions, whether it’s to the Moon or Mars,” said Seb Loze, Epic Games' Unreal Engine business director for simulation. "Whether you’re a game designer, architect, hobbyist, or rocket scientist, anyone can build with UE5, and we can’t wait to see what immersive simulations the community comes up with," the executive added.