By 2028, Lockheed Martin wants to have a Mars Base Camp orbiting the red planet so astronauts and scientists can study it and prep for an eventual manned Martian landing. That still gives them more than a decade to prepare, and one of the ways they plan on getting ready is with virtual reality.

Virtual reality … inside of other virtual reality.

Two people from the pioneering aerospace company gave a presentation about the Mars Base Camp at the 67th International Astronautical Congress on Wednesday night, and they explained how VR will play a role in training scientists — and getting the public hyped-up.

Six astronauts will live and work on the orbiting base, intensively studying the planet for an eventual Martian landing. Right now, there are a ton of possible landing sites. “That’s a lot of terrain to consider and a lot of ground truth you’d like to gain before you commit to one or more landing sites,” said Rob Chambers, a Systems Engineering Senior Manager at Lockheed Martin.

Mars Base Camp.
Mars Base Camp.

The researchers onboard the base will use rovers and UAVs to study the surface more closely, and they’ll use VR to prepare. The two presenters on Thursday showed a clip of the VR in action. In it, the VR operator explored the Mars Base Camp, getting a feel for the general layout and Martian views while various objects float about.

“This will be the tool that you train the rover and UAV operators in,” narrated Dominic A. Antonelli, a NASA astronaut and the acting director for Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Programs Civil Space and Space Systems Company.

At one point in the clip, a disembodied hand reaches out to snatch a floating VR headset and put it on, instantly transporting his or herself to virtual Mars.

“Our VR operator grabbed VR goggles inside the VR experience so this VR inside a VR, which I’m not sure has ever been done before, but we just did it,” Antonelli said, ever-so-slightly amused. “It’s not magic, we just did it.”

The VR experience has an added benefit of getting folks on earth excited about the mission by allowing them to experience what it would be like. Lockheed Martin has used VR to this end before, and once hired a firm to turn a school bus into a virtual Martian rover for some lucky kids.

“VR,” Antonelli said, “in addition to getting you excited by showing you what it would feel like to fly a UAV around mars, will eventually be the technology that we train you [with].”

Stick around until 2028 to see if this virtual reality ever becomes reality.

Photos via Lockheed Martin