MarsVR - Virtual Reality Platform To Support Exploring Mars

Created by The Mars Society

MarsVR - Virtual Reality Platform To Support Exploring Mars
8c75a74010226124670ad78b70d04e36 original
197 backers pledged $31,472.40 on Kickstarter

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.

Raised in Kickstarter
$31,472.40 / 197 backers
Raised in BackerKit
$776.00 / 191 backers

Latest Updates from Our Project:

Videos from Mars Society Convention Demo & VR Panel
18 days 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!
about 1 month 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
about 2 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!
2 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

Milestone complete: The MDRS has been fully scanned!
3 months ago – Thu, Jun 21, 2018 at 11:14:07 PM

Greetings CrowdExplorers,

Tonight I received some great news from our team onsite at the MDRS. They have completed all of our scans on Day 2, which is well ahead of schedule. They've already acquired over 15,000 high-resolution photos of the terrain around the MDRS using drones, cameras, and other scanning equipment. In addition, we have full coverage of the inside of the MDRS facilities, including some amazing 360 panoramas that you can walk around in, which are ready NOW! (see below)  Our team is now preparing to return home so we can begin the huge amount of work to build our VR environment over this summer. So far, everything is on schedule and we are very excited about this milestone being completed!

Now for the good stuff: we used our donated Matterport camera to take dozens of 360 panoramic scans of the inside of all of the MDRS facilities, and thanks to the amazing cloud-based processing technology at Matterport, these have already been fully processed. We now present them to you.

These are not static 360 panoramas -- you can use your computer's arrow keys to move around inside of them. These are absolutely amazing high-quality scans, but I just want to point out that they are not reflective of the final result of our project.  The open-source VR environment we will be building will be fully interactive and will have mission training scenarios, and other special content and activities to do while inside the VR simulation. I can't wait to see that in action, but for now this is something we can all enjoy!

MDRS Hab Interior Scan

This complete scan of the MDRS Hab interior allows you to walk around and (for the first time on Matterport) go inside all of the crew staterooms and other areas of the hab. In comparison to the 2014 scans done by Victor Luo (see below), these scans were done with the MDRS in a more "bare-bones" post-field season configuration, which is great since we can use these in conjuction with new 3-D models we'll build out and overlay onto the facilities for the purposes of our training scenarios.

It's interesting to compare our new MDRS Hab Interior Scan with the December 2014 Matterport scans done by Victor Luo (of Crew 144, and now at JPL) which show the MDRS in a lived-in field season configuration:

Here are the other MDRS facilities we scanned:

Science Dome

This is our primary lab space with all the science equipment and supplies needed for biology, geology, and other types of research to be done onsite.

The Musk Observatory (aka the MDRS Solar Observatory)

This observatory has been recently converted to be a Sun-focused observatory, but was our original astronomical observatory.  It was built with funds donated by Elon Musk back in the early 2000s. (Before he became the real Tony Stark, or maybe a real-life James Bond villian.  Love you Elon!)

RAM (Repair and Assembly Module)

The RAM is our workshop where we can work on projects requiring tools and to repair existing hardware.  This will be a great place for future mission content...

MDRS Airlock

Scans of the MDRS Airlock with the internal door open & closed, which we will use to build our training scenario for going through the airlock. With this, you can study in detail all of the donors from our 2002 fundraising plaque, which people have asked about :)  I can't wait to put some CrowdExplorer stickers next to this in our VR environment (and maybe IRL during our MarsVR Crew 197 rotation in October!)

MDRS Airlock Inner Door Open:

MDRS Airlock Inner Door Closed:

MDRS Hab Equipment Room

Scans of the MDRS Equipment room, which we will use for the training scenario of "gearing up" for your EVA.

MDRS Equipment Room:

MDRS Equipment Room 2:

This is amazing stuff, but this is only representative of the work we did inside the facilities.  We have also met our goal of capturing over 1 square mile of terrain outside and around the vicinity of the MDRS, as well as several EVA sites.  I can't wait to share that with you!

Until next time, I'll see you back at the MDRS soon (in VR!)

-James Burk
Program Manager, MarsVR