REPOST: NASA Taps Young People To Help Develop Virtual Reality Technology

The same way the Internet evolved into a major force for development, virtual reality will soon be a huge business and an important pedestal for economic progress. Here’s the latest in this technological breakthrough from NPR:

NASA has big hopes for virtual reality technology. The agency is developing a suite of virtual reality environments at Goddard Spaceflight Center in Maryland, that could be used for everything from geological research to repairing orbiting satellites.

One displays fiery ejections from the Sun. In another, scientists can watch magnetic fields pulse around the earth. A virtual rendering of an ancient lava tube in Idaho makes scientists feel like they’re standing at the bottom of an actual cave.

“I think, and I hope, this can be extremely useful for NASA scientists,” explains NASA engineer Thomas Grubb, who manages the program.

The goal, he says, is to scale up the use of virtual reality technology in NASA labs, and go beyond public applications like the Mars immersion program that allows users to explore the Martian surface. For example, NASA volcanologist Brent Garry is hoping that virtual visits to a rock formation in Idaho can help him plan research trips in real life. That same VR environment also allows users to measure distances and leave notes in the landscape.

“You know, it’s cheaper to have people go to a lava tube in VR than to actually fly them out there for two weeks,” says Grubb.

Another application in development could allow technicians repair satellites. People on earth could watch in real time as they manipulate actual tools in space. If the repairs are successful, satellites that would have died when their batteries did could keep working instead. “All of these things can save a lot of money or time, or just enable new things,” says Grubb.

And Grubb has stumbled upon a new talent source to help develop the pilot programs: young students, some of them still in high school.

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