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Astronauts Test Underwater Virtual Reality Technology From Microsoft

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Morenike Adebayo

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1605 Astronauts Test Underwater Virtual Reality Technology From Microsoft
NASA astronaut Serena Auñón moves tools and equipment underwater during NASA's NEEMO 20 mission. NASA.

Four NASA astronauts tested out a virtual reality kit from Microsoft last month to simulate the conditions of space.

And where better to mimic the effects of microgravity than in a specially designed underwater lab?


The crew of the NEEMO 20 (NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations) underwater mission have been testing out HoloLens during their stay at the computer manufacturer's research and development labs, beginning last month.

The HoloLens headset features augmented reality technology, layering a virtual display onto real-world visuals. This technology will allow members of the control center on Earth to monitor astronauts from a more accurate point of view, allowing for real-time emergency interventions during procedural experiments.

A HoloLens was aboard the Dragon spacecraft that unfortunately exploded during launch to the International Space Station in late June this year.

Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano remains confident that this underwater prototype will “still be valuable” when a HoloLens does make the voyage into orbit.


The full NEEMO 20 crew are Parmitano acting as commander, NASA astronaut Serena Auñón, Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai and NASA EVA management office engineer David Coan.

Diving into the waters off the coast of Key Largo, Florida, the crew are spending a month plunging to depths of 17 meters (45 feet) underwater to experiment with practices that could be useful during missions into deep space.

One factor of space exploration that will be tested out in NEEMO 20 is the time delays experienced by astronauts in communication with control centers on Earth. Radio waves used for communication can have a lengthy travel time from Earth. These time delays in communication from Mars, for example, could mean that a control center on Earth could take as long as 24 minutes to respond to an astronaut.

In previous underwater missions, astronauts travelled in a circuit lengthy enough to allow ground control to receive images sent and respond accordingly. By the time the astronauts returned to the beginning of the circuit, a reply would already be on its way back for them to accept.


The HoloLens could eliminate the necessity of this inane task.

Diving astronauts will also swim with various weights attached to simulate gravities, from the low gravity on asteroids to the one-third gravity of Earth found on Mars.

Not all of NEEMO 20’s work is for space. The crew will also be analyzing the coral found on the ocean beds of Florida’s coast. As coral is an excellent natural monitor of the effects of climate change, samples will be collected for study.



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