As NASA tries to venture into the Moon and Earth's neighboring planets in the future, communication delays between the Mission Control Center and the International Space Station are slowly being addressed. According to NASA, their new augmented reality program demonstrates one possible way to increase the independence of astronauts.

In that way, the crew would no longer wait for the ground crew to assist them. They can access the information they need right in front of them to repair and maintain equipment in the space station using augmented reality (AR) headsets.

 Augmented Reality Help Astronauts Fix, Maintain Equipment in the International Space Station Without Assistance From Ground Crew
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
A team of researchers at ESA’s mission control center in Darmstadt, Germany, are investigating new concepts for controlling rovers on a planet and satellites in orbit. One approach is to assess the latest developments in augmented and virtual reality and how they can be applied to the stringent operational and safety requirements of both robotic and human spaceflight.

Augmented Reality Helping Astronauts in the Space Station

Conducting repairs or maintenance on space technology, like a crewed spaceship or the International Space Station, is never an easy task. Repairs in the ISS are overseen by people on the ground who have all the access to the space station's schematics and information. Meanwhile, astronauts would follow instructions from the ground crew to do the repairs.

But time has taught scientists that this system may not always be applicable, especially with communication delays. Additionally, they aim to promote astronaut independence for future missions that go beyond the space station.

According to Futurism, crew members have been testing NASA's new augmented reality technology called T2 Augmented Reality (T2AR) for months to conduct low-stakes repairs. Soichi Noguchi, an astronaut from Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), first used instructions from the AR headset to repair a treadmill on the ISS instead of using the PDF document that they usually do.

The idea of the augmented reality program is to provide astronauts real-time instructions, 3D directional cues, and instructional videos that are installed in a Microsoft HoloLens so that they independently work without asking for assistance from the ground crew on Earth. More so, the hands-free instructions would give them one less thing to hold, freeing their hand to use tools and a flashlight.

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Augmented Reality for Future Space Missions

According to Digital Trends, after Noguchi's first test, European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Thomas Pesquet and NASA astronaut Megan McArthur tested the AR system. They are planning to conduct nine more tests to try out what it can and can not do.

In the future, the system could be used to maintain other equipment in the space station, but for now, it can only be used to repair the T2 treadmill. Nonetheless, the test sessions provided NASA the information about how the technology could work and assist astronauts.

NASA said that the technology was designed for a wide variety of space station needs to increase the crew's efficiency, especially on future space missions like the Moon and Mars missions, wherein communication delays are greater. The augmented reality program will allow them to conduct tasks without waiting for further instructions from Earth.

NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems Division supports the program to advance future human exploration in space.

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