Scientists using virtual reality in next phase of space exploration

- NASA and Microsoft are teaming up to make space exploration faster, easier and cheaper.

And they're doing it using virtual reality. 

Scientists are "strolling" through Mars, seeing every rocky surface and distant mountain, but doing it from 40 million miles away. 

At NASA's Jet Propulsion Labratory (JPL) auditorium in Pasadena, scientists are looking at recent 3D data from the rover curiosity through a program called 'Onsight'

"It really enables them to do geologically on Mars just as they would here on Earth," says Alex Menzies, Onsight's software lead. 

It helps scientists decide how to use a real rover that's taking soil samples and images. 

"Being able to identify what are the really interesting places that you might really want to drill while you're there is really important," says Menzies. 

The next version of that rover is being designed virtually too. 

"It basically feels like I'm creating magical tools to move things around," says Matthew Clausen, one of JPL's lead software designers. 

Clausen helped design Mars 2020.

Even though the first pieces of metal haven't been assembled yet, scientists can tweak their design and interact with it using wearable software called Protospace.

"By enabling them to see the thing in real space, that full scale like this, our team members can collaborate and say we just realized this bolt here is smaller than we thought it would be," said Clausen.

It would take a lot of money and time to create a Prototype you could hold in your hand, so scientists say they are maximizing the work they can get down with the taxpayers money. 

These virtual reality tools are just available for scientists right now, but this summer, NASA is making the same type of experience available to the public at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 

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