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 / 182 backers

Latest Updates from Our Project:

First glimpses of MDRS terrain models!
11 days 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!
30 days 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

Program Update 5 – June 16th, 2018
about 1 month ago – Sat, Jun 16, 2018 at 12:34:31 AM

Greetings CrowdExplorers,

We are prepping to send out a crew to the MDRS comprised of Shannon Norrell and Az Balabanian who are flying from San Francisco, Robert and Stephen Madsen from Synaptix Games (also long-time Mars Society folks and past MDRS volunteers) in Grand Junction, CO, Ben Skogen from AeroScout in Grand Junction, and Casey Wheeler with GeoRanger, also from Grand Junction. Our goal is to fully scan the MDRS next week including the facilities inside & out and the terrain using drones.

I’ve arranged to send out several pieces of hardware to help them, including a sophisticated LIDAR unit that’s used in the construction industry, and we will also have an amazing Matterport 360 degree camera on loan from that company.

Today I also learned we have been approved by Microsoft to be a preferred developer of Windows Mixed Reality (which is the new name for the team working on Hololens) and they are sending us a kit including free hardware. I’ve been working to get this type of recognition from Microsoft for over 9 months, so this is a huge and deeply personal accomplishment for me given the experiences I’ve had related to Microsoft both recently and across my career. My first job ever was working on Microsoft Office as a PM fresh from college, and I’ve talked at length about my experience last year with the Hololens units at JPL and how they inspired the MarsVR project.

This week we were featured in the Red Bull blog and I also did an interview with a Denver, Colorado magazine, which will have an in-depth article about the Mars Society & MarsVR coming out soon. We will continue to get more press as this project goes on, because it is touching a nerve in the VR and Space communities, not to mention STEM education! All of what we are doing and planning to do has been very well received, and it humbles our team to know that we may make a real difference with public outreach towards increasing interest in the human exploration of Mars.

I am hopeful we will get the majority of our Photogrammetry and terrain models captured with this trip, and we will also be documenting (via video) what we’re doing at the MDRS in the hope that we can help create a short film about the project.

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

-James Burk
Program Manager, MarsVR

MarsVR is being featured today on the Red Bull blog!
about 1 month ago – Wed, Jun 13, 2018 at 01:48:47 PM

Today the Red Bull Blog is featuring a story about MarsVR! 


And in case you missed it, here's our most recent Program Update #4 including info on the Texas A&M VR project that we are collaborating with now. 

We start scanning the MDRS next week in force!  Stay tuned for more updates...

-James Burk
Program Manager, MarsVR

Program Update 4 / Last chance to lock your survey and purchase Add-Ons for MarsVR!
about 1 month ago – Sat, Jun 09, 2018 at 09:34:44 PM

Greetings CrowdExplorers,

Our team will be travelling out to MDRS next week to begin the photogrammetry scans of the facilities (inside and out) and the one square mile of terrain, using drones and high-resolution cameras.  We will be documenting everything we do and taking video for a short documentary film that will come out this summer.  We will also soon be featured in the Red Bull blog.  In the past month, we were already featured by, Mars Daily, Spaceflight Insider, and Mondo 2000. In particular, the Mondo 2000 piece was very in-depth on the project, and we are hoping the Red Bull article will be similar.

We recently met with Dr. Greg Chamitoff, a former astronaut and professor of engineering at Texas A&M. He has a group of 50+ students that have been working for the last two years on SpaceCRAFT VR, which is a project to create a VR environment that has real space physics and science models coded into the platform.  We committed to work together long-term, and in the immediate timeframe, our MDRS terrain models and photogrammetry/3-D models will make an appearance in SpaceCRAFT VR.  In addition, Dr. Chamitoff and members of his team will be joining our project as Core Developers, and working closely with us to make MarsVR Phase 1 (and beyond) a reality.

We have other exciting partnerships that we have not yet announced, including one which we hope will upgrade the suits used at MDRS to include VR-ready cameras to enable future real-time coordination between crewmembers at MDRS and MarsVR participants, enabling our vision of astronauts and people back on Earth using VR to work together to explore Mars.

Tomorrow (Sunday, June 10th) is the last chance to purchase add-ons for the Phase 1 Kickstarter before we lock the surveys and begin shipping out rewards. You can add on any one of our three embroidered patch designs, a metal medallion (which are super popular so far -- everybody who has seen them physically has been very impressed!), or any of our digital rewards. Please visit use the survey link you received in your email recently, or visit

Every little bit helps as we make our dreams using VR to support the human exploration of Mars a reality.

I'll see you on Mars (in VR!)

-James Burk
Program Manager, MarsVR