MarsVR - Virtual Reality Platform To Support Exploring Mars

Created by The Mars Society

The Mars Society is creating a virtual reality platform for serious research to support the human exploration of Mars. Our Phase 1 Kickstarter ran during May 2018 and reached 114% of its goal, raising over $31k towards building the open source VR environment for the Mars Desert Research Station.

Latest Updates from Our Project:

The Early Access Build has been sent out to Backers!
6 months ago – Fri, Nov 09, 2018 at 11:29:51 AM

Greetings CrowdExplorers!

It's been a quiet couple months on our end but I am pleased to provide you (the MarsVR Kickstarter backers) with an update on our progress with the Phase 1 Environment, a high-fidelity capture of the real-life Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah.

Today we sent the first pre-Beta, Early Access Build to around 20 of our Kickstarter backers that chose that reward level (or higher).  Our core developer team has done a lot of great work, and today we are beginning to expand that team to include additional volunteers and members of the VR community that will be assisting us to close out Phase 1 and begin work on future Phases of MarsVR!

The build contains our 1 square mile of terrain, as well as all exterior buildings and most of the interiors.  Notably missing from the build are the airlock, upper deck, and lower deck, but those scans are done (the airlock was in our convention demo as well) and we are working to clean those up & re-integrate.  We are also working to clean up and finish the exterior building scans and the tunnels that connect the facilities.  The tunnels in particular have been quite a challenge to get accurate, but we are making progress.

I recently returned from the Mars Desert Research Station where I participated in Crew 197 along with Shannon Norrell (our Director of Engineering for MarsVR), and some of our key MarsVR backers.  During our rotation, we scouted terrain that we hope to capture for Phase 2 (additional EVA locations), and we also planned out our mission scenarios in detail.  You can read our Final Mission Summary

I also participated in the Space Expo 2018 event last Saturday at Seattle's Museum of Flight where our Early Access Build was shown to around 200 members of the general public.  The feedback was universally positive, and (even better) the experience validated for me the power of virtual reality to tell the story of the human exploration of Mars to the general public, which is one of the main goals of our MarsVR Program.

We are striving to complete Phase 1 as soon as possible, so that we can release & open source a Beta release and a Final release.  This will allow a wider group of the general public to experience MarsVR. 

If you would like to assist us with Phase 1 endgame which would include helping us cleanup the VR assets in Unity, please contact me and I can add you to our Slack group and provide access to our private Github and Trello resources.  You can also continue to purchase our Kickstarter rewards to fund Phase 2, using our Backerkit Pre-Order Store, or the Mars Society Official Store.  If you purchase the Early Access build at the $100 level, you can receive that today!

Also, at this time, all physical rewards have been sent to our Kickstarter backers. If you have not received your physical rewards (Metal Medallion, Mission Patches, or Stickers) please let me know.

Thanks again for all your support, and I'll see you on Mars!

James Burk
Program Manager, MarsVR

Videos from Mars Society Convention Demo & VR Panel
9 months ago – Wed, Sep 05, 2018 at 01:35:50 AM

Two videos from ther recent Mars Society Convention where MarsVR was featured have now been posted to Youtube. 

The four-day International Mars Society Convention brought together leading scientists, engineers, aerospace industry representatives, government policymakers and journalists to talk about the latest scientific discoveries, technological advances and political-economic developments that could help pave the way for a human mission to the planet Mars.

MarsVR was featured extensively at this year's convention.  In addition to holding a special demo event and a Panel discussion on VR, I staffed a floor demo over all four days and talked about the project to everybody that came by.  I'd estimate over 350 people saw the demo firsthand or were attendees at one or both of our events below.

First Video: MarsVR Demo at Saturday Night Banquet

This demo of our Phase 1 MDRS Crew Training Sim was presented to 260+ attendees at our Saturday night banquet. The demo was very well-received, as you can tell from this video!  Lots of oohs and aahs as we showed the six finished interiors at MDRS as well as our initial Terrain Model.  This is just a taste of our final VR environment but you can see the direction we are heading in, it's pretty exciting!

We also showed the Matterport Scans of the MDRS which we previously shared with our backers in June:

Second Video: Virtual Reality & Mars Panel

This Panel featured the Mars Society's MarsVR project and Texas A&M's SpaceCRAFT VR project.  Our partners at Texas A&M have been doing a great job of helping us build 3-D models and assist with mission designs.

Panelists included:

  • (me) James Burk, Program Manager, MarsVR & IT Director, the Mars Society.
  • Shannon Norrell, Director of Engineering, MarsVR & Co-Founder of HP’s Mars Home Planet. (Note: we are not affiliated with HP.)
  • Erik Stowers, Texas A&M &
  • Jeff Dillon, Senior Engineer, Unity

Enjoy these videos as we march towards our first Beta release!  Thanks again for all of your support, we couldn't have gotten here without you!

Until next time, I'll see you on Mars!

James Burk
Program Manager, MarsVR

MarsVR Video Update: Our Virtual Reality environment takes shape!
9 months ago – Mon, Aug 13, 2018 at 03:39:16 PM

Greetings CrowdExplorers!

I just posted to Youtube our latest program video update, where I provide details on our recent activities.  Featured in the video are the recent work of Shannon Norrell, Director of Engineering for MarsVR, Az Balabanian (photogrammetry expert) and Ben Skogen (drone pilot and terrain modelling expert.)

Check it out!

Live Stream tomorrow of photogrammetry expert working on MarsVR
10 months ago – Mon, Jul 30, 2018 at 08:07:21 PM

Greetings CrowdExplorers,

Tomorrow our resident photogrammetry expert Az Balabanian (aka “The Wizard of Az”) is going to be live-streaming his working session to clean up the interior scans of the RAM module at the Mars Desert Research Station.

If you have never seen any of his videos, you will be in for a treat. Plus it will be a preview of the amazing cutting-edge and photo-realistic VR environment that we are working on for Phase 1 of MarsVR.

Follow the action tomorrow at 1pm Pacific time at:

If you can’t make it, we will post the video and an overall update on the project later this week. Some very exciting things have been in motion!

See you on YouTube! (And eventually on Mars in VR!)

-James Burk

Program Manager, MarsVR

First glimpses of MDRS terrain models!
11 months ago – Wed, Jul 11, 2018 at 12:15:46 AM

Greetings CrowdExplorers,

I have some exciting news -- tonight our team got a preview of the completed MDRS  3-D terrain model.  This is a single "asset file" (think of it like a really big computer image you would load up on your computer), and it has over one square mile of the real terrain around the MDRS.  The team at AeroScout LLC, who flew drones at the MDRS a couple weeks ago and have experience in the mining industry (so they know geology!), gave us a preview of the terrain model which included flying all around the model, zooming in and out, and exploring all the areas around the MDRS using the free and open-source Blender program.  We will be sharing this model asset file on Github later this summer, once it's fully processed and ready to go.

Here are some screenshots of what we saw today:

This was a very exciting moment because several of us have done a TON of work in getting to this point, but we are still early in the whole process.  We hope to get an even higher-resolution version of this terrain model asset, and we will be integrating this into our VR environment over the summer. 

Next up: In the near future, we will be getting some previews of the amazingly detailed photogrammetry work done inside the MDRS facilities, and (based on what I've already seen) I'm confident it will be making a big splash in the community...

Thank you to Ben Skogen, Casey Wheeler, Shannon Norrell, Az Balabanian, and Robert & Stephen Madsen who were our MDRS photogrammetry mission crew.

Until next time, I'll see you on Mars (in VR!)

-James Burk
Program Manager, MarsVR