Microsoft and NASA will put two HoloLens headsets into outer space, for science!

Jonny Caldwell

HoloLense being used on the International Space Station

Another brilliant project Microsoft is working on brings two HoloLens headsets to the International Space Station with the help of NASA. Codenamed “Sidekick”, the project provides virtual aid to astronauts working off of our home planet. The two headsets are set to launch on the International Space Station on June 28. 

NASA says that the goal of Project Sidekick is to “enable station crews with assistance when and where they need it. This new capability could reduce crew training requirements and increase the efficiency at which astronauts can work in space.” 

According to Sam Scimemi, director of the ISS program at the NASA headquarters, 

“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. This new technology could also empower future explorers requiring greater autonomy on the journey to Mars.” 

Sidekick operates in two different modes. “Remote Expert Mode” uses Skype to allow a ground operator to see what one of the crew members see. The ground operator can draw annotations and help the crew member with his or her task. “Procedure Mode” provides animated holographic illustrations displayed on top of the object which the crew members are interacting with. This could possibly reduce the amount of training that new crews will need to deal with. 

Alex Kipman of the Windows and Devices group at Microsoft explains: 

“Microsoft HoloLens is about transforming the ways you create, connect, and explore. 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.” 

The project will also be used during NASA’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) twentieth expedition set for July 21, where a group of astronauts and engineers come to the world’s undersea research station, the Aquarius, for two whole weeks. 

According to NASA’s press release: 

The Sidekick project is part of a larger partnership formed by NASA and Microsoft to explore applications of holographic computing in space exploration. Earlier this year, NASA and Microsoft announced a collaboration to develop software called OnSight, a new technology that will enable scientists to work virtually on Mars using the same HoloLens technology. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, led the development of Sidekick and OnSight. NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston led testing and certification of Sidekick for use onboard the space station. 

The International Space Station is a convergence of science, technology and human innovation that enables us to demonstrate new technologies and make research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. It has been continuously occupied since November 2000 and, since then, has been visited by more than 200 people and a variety of international and commercial spacecraft. The space station remains the springboard to NASA’s next giant leap in exploration, including future missions to an asteroid and Mars. 

This could be really great for NASA, and could prove to be extremely valuable. You never know, the HoloLens could change the way we learn and think about what is beyond our home planet.