Only on the International Space Station (ISS) would you be testing out a new augmented reality work platform when suddenly you have to start shooting lasers at aliens. Astronauts Scott Kelly and Tim Peake recently found themselves in this very situation aboard the ISS, except it was all in their Hololens headsets, and they were really just playing a souped up, virtual reality version of Space Invaders.
The two astronauts were testing out Project Sidekick, an “augmented reality” initiative that enables collaboration between space-travelers and mission control, when they discovered the game. The updated classic required them to literally duck incoming missiles and return fire by tapping their fingers together. According to Tim Peake:
The game was just a bit of fun where Scott and I were being attacked by aliens from all over the place and we fired our canons by squeezing our fingers together. We had to dodge their missiles hence a lot of ducking and weaving going on…much fun!
Besides hiding an awesome diversion, Project Sidekick also seems to offer some major benefits, especially considering the high stakes of space missions where nothing can go wrong. In virtual reality, the astronauts can receive clear visual input from ground control in real time, allowing the experts on the ground to “point out exactly what switches to flip or which screws to loosen, handles to turn and even guide us to storage locations.”
The Hololens goggles not only look sweet and enhance the mission capabilities of the astronauts aboard the ISS, but they make life in space a little more enjoyable as well. Of course, astronaut life is serious business, and it wasn’t until 1992 that Russian Cosmonaut Aleksandr A. Serebrov brought the first video game into space when he stashed a Nintendo Game Boy with a Tetris cartridge in his personal gear. It’s a major reversal that now astronauts are playing games that seem awesome even to us on the ground.
We hope, for the sake of astronauts yet to come, that ground control lightens up and lets the astronauts have their fun. We just don’t want to catch anyone gaming when they’re supposed to be working. It might be tempting to play Space Invaders while spacewalking, but in this case, we have to insist. We’re worried that the new frontier of gaming is so cool, it will rip space-time and kill everyone. Or we’re just super jealous.