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  • 12.16.15

You Too Can Explore Mars (In VR) Just Like Mark Watney

Conduct missions inside a habitat and rovers on the red planet’s surface in Mars 2030.

You don’t have to be Mark Watney to conduct scientific missions on Mars.

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Today, the media company Fusion announced a virtual reality experience created with NASA that offers users an interactive, first-person simulation of life as an astronaut on the red planet. It’s like being Watney, the protagonist in the recent hit film and book, The Martian, except without being trapped on Mars for years.

Known as Mars 2030, the project is based on real NASA data and research, and charges users with carrying out and completing a series of realistic missions, both within a Mars habitat and on the planet’s surface. It will be rolled out during SXSW 2016.

“The impetus for the project was to try to create as close an experience [as possible] to what it’s going to be like for the first explorers to Mars,” said Fusion senior vice president and chief digital officer Daniel Eilemberg. “For us, it was always very important that if we’re going to do this and take advantage of virtual reality, we try and stay as close to scientific reality as we could.”

The idea, added Eilemberg, is that as users work through the missions, they will learn how things work inside the habitat and a Mars rover.

The project was built for multiple VR platforms, including the high-end Oculus Rift and Samsung’s mobile Gear VR. Initially it will be a single-user experience, but may be expanded for multi-user over time. The idea, said Julian Reyes, a VR designer and producer at Fusion, is that users could collaborate on mini-missions that give a taste of what actual astronauts would do together on Mars.

Users choosing to work their way directly through the experience should be able to finish it in about 15 minutes, but those who want to explore more and complete all the different modules can expect to spend longer.

The Fusion/NASA project isn’t the only major effort that will give users an extended experience on Mars. In fact, it will soon be possible to play the part of Watney in Fox’s The Martian VR Experience. That 20-minute project, based directly on the film, will let users delve deeply into the movie’s storyline, also conducting missions and exploring life on Mars. It will be perhaps the most ambitious VR experience to come out of a Hollywood studio to date, and was designed to be more than simple marketing for the movie. It should be available on all major VR platforms sometime in early 2016.

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About the author

Daniel Terdiman is a San Francisco-based technology journalist with nearly 20 years of experience. A veteran of CNET and VentureBeat, Daniel has also written for Wired, The New York Times, Time, and many other publications.

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