Envision Center lets moon walker Buzz Aldrin explore Mars without even leaving Earth

Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, has now explored Mars too – using a virtual reality simulation developed by ITaP’s Envision Center in partnership with a Purdue aeronautics and astronautics class.

“Why do you need to go to Mars when you’ve got all this?” Aldrin joked after testing out the center’s VR experience, which brings to life the Martian landscape and a permanent astronaut habitat designed by students in Visiting Assistant Professor Sarag Saikia’s Human Journey to Mars class.

Retired astronaut Buzz Aldrin uses a virtual reality headset to explore a simulated Mars at Purdue's Envision Center. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin explores Mars with the Envision Center's virtual reality simulation.

The simulation was on display at the Purdue Human Journey to Mars forum on April 28, which featured presentations by Saikia’s students about their plan for Martian exploration, which calls for the first human landing on Mars in 2039 and a continuous human presence there by the year 2050. The students explained how the astronauts will eventually produce most of their own food hydroponically, how they’ll construct radiation shields on Mars to protect themselves from solar flares and why Deuteronilus Mensae’s level ground and proximity to water sources and scientific regions of interest make it an ideal landing site.

Aldrin drives a virtual Mars rover in Envision's Mars simulation. Aldrin driving a Mars rover in virtual reality.

The Envision Center’s VR simulation is set near the end of this century, when the students’ plans call for a permanent Martian habitat to be fully constructed and home to more than 50 astronauts. The user suits up inside a landing vehicle, rides a rover across the landing site to the habitat, and can then enter the habitat to explore its various features. The simulation is built with the HTC VIVE, a virtual reality headset with wireless hand controls that lets a user completely immerse themselves in the virtual environment.

The Human Journey to Mars forum concluded with a public speech by Purdue alumnus William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for human exploration and operations, about the future of deep space exploration. According to Gerstenmaier, getting to Mars will require collaboration between NASA, foreign governments, academia and private industry. It’s an effort in which Purdue is no doubt ready to play a key role. 

NASA administrator William Gerstenmaier speaks at a forum on Purdue's Human Journey to Mars project. NASA administrator William Gerstenmaier speaking at Purdue's Human Journey to Mars forum.
For more information about working with the Envision Center, contact Laura Theademan, the center’s program manager, ltheadem@purdue.edu, or George Takahashi, the center’s technical lead, gtakahas@purdue.edu.

Writer:  Adrienne Miller, science and technology writer, Information Technology at Purdue (ITaP), 765-496-8204, mill2027@purdue.edu

Last updated: May 5, 2017

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