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NASA's plans to colonize the Martian Metaverse

NASA launched their new, MarsXR challenge on the 5th of May, with $70,000 in prize money up for grabs. The competition, in partnership with extended reality (XR) simulation, training, and education organisation Buendea and American video game and software developer Epic Games, is aimed at helping NASA’s research on extravehicular activities on the surface of Mars.

The reason for the competition? NASA’s Artemis program seeks to return humans to the Moon by 2025 and, from there, under its Moon to Mars initiative, send the first humans 140 million miles to Mars. NASA are “seeking developers to create a new Virtual Reality (XR) research, development, and testing environment to help prepare for the experiences and situations that will be encountered on Mars.” The competition builds on the NASA XOSS MarsXR Editor, which uses Epic Game’s Unreal Engine 5 to virtualize 400 square kilometres of realistic Martian terrain and weather conditions, and provides developers with eh tools required to build multi-user extravehicular activity (EVA) scenarios.

There are five different categories for competitors. These are: “Set Up Camp”; “Scientific Research”; “Maintenance”; “Exploration”; and “Blow Our Minds”. The $70,000 purse will be shared across twenty prizes, four for each category, with eh overall category winner taking home $6,000. Under the “Blow Our Minds” category, The Metabite we would like to see the following emergency scenarios including dust storms, solar flares, Mars-quake, and the unearthing of alien civilizations; and isolation and psychological scenarios including “space-psychosis”, a Mark Watney-esque “stranded on Mars”, straight out of The Martian playbook, and a Spaceflight-Associated Neuro-ocular Syndrome (SANS) scenario. Long-duration spaceflight can lead to SANS, symptoms of which include decreased near vision acuity and headaches, something that could be re-created using virtual reality headsets and used in combination with some of the above virtualized emergency scenarios.

Looking ahead, the future expansion and development of the MarsXR environment could evolve into permanent Martian colony in the Metaverse. NASA and Epic Games could help to fund future space exploration by monetising this colony, selling plots of land to would-be Martian Metaverse colonists, or offering access to virtual Martian experiences similar to the Apollo 11 experience on Metas Quest 2.

The submission deadline is the 26th of July with the winners announced on the 27th of September. We’ll be back to see who was victorious.

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Nicolas Lobos/Unsplash

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