Will Astronauts Use VR on Mars? – An Interview with Peggy Wu


What does VR have in store for space exploration? At this year’s Virtual Reality convention in Toronto, I sat down with Peggy Wu, the Associate Director for Human-Machine Interaction Research at United Technologies Corporation, to talk about her perspective on this exciting aspect of our future.

“How do you stay connected with friends and family when far away?,” asks Wu in her talk at the convention. “How will Mars astronauts when they’re 400 million kilometers away?” As the primary investigator on research using Virtual Reality to support NASA’s future Mars missions, Wu is part of a team of researchers that is building the next generation communications tool using VR.

Space exploration can be extremely isolating, especially when transmission time between Earth and Mars is 24 minutes each way, so Wu and team created a virtual reality world where astronauts and their families could asynchronously hang out and interact. The world had earthly sets like bars and theatres, and every astronaut had their own island they could customize to their liking. They could hang out with friends and family in these spaces, and even shared Thanksgiving with them, leaving messages to one another to be shared over a virtual dinner.

Watch the interview below to hear Peggy Wu discuss the year-long experiment in which mock astronauts simulated a Mars mission in a desolate area of Hawaii and, among other research, tested the use of this VR system to improve morale in space.

***360 Video – use your finger/mouse to look around the room***

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