United States space agency NASA collaborates with Epic Games to encourage developers to create a Martian Metaverse experience to help in training exercises.
NASA, the U.S. space agency, will be working with Epic Games, the company that produced Fortnite, to build a contest with a hefty $70,000 prize up for grabs. The challenge would specifically target developers who will be tasked with creating a Martian Metaverse experience.
Contest participants will be expected to take on different tasks, including designing several critical environments for Martian astronauts. To provide a realistic setting, Epic Games is lending Unreal Engine 5, where the developers would render their designs and submit.
“Creators can use Unreal Engine to build realistic simulation scenarios to help prepare NASA for future missions, whether it’s to the Moon or Mars,” said Seb Loze, Unreal Engine business director for simulation at Epic Games. “Whether you’re a game designer, architect, hobbyist or rocket scientist, anyone can build with UE5, and we can’t wait to see what immersive simulations the community comes up with.”
Help in Training Exercises
NASA conceptualized the contest with the intent of helping Martian astronauts have their own Martian Metaverse for training purposes. The space agency first posted about the contest on Herox, a crowdsourcing problem-solving platform. The call was for developers to help them build “Virtual Reality (XR) assets and scenarios for use by NASA in research focused on extravehicular activities on the surface of Mars.”
Twenty individual prizes will be given away, totaling $70,000. NASA has already defined the virtual experiences that will serve as categories for the challenge, which means each prize for every category will be more or less $6,000. The categories will include “set up camp,” “scientific research,” “maintenance,” “exploration,” and “blow our minds.” Each category will fulfill its own purpose.
The challenge involves populating MarsXR, a model of Mars and an already-started Metaverse that has now mapped 400 km2 of Mars terrain, including realistic day and night cycles. Hence, it’s crucial for developers who will join the challenge to consider the fact that Mars’ diurnal cycle is similar to the Earth’s. Mars orbits the Sun once every 24 hours and 39 minutes, with Martian days being called “sols,” short for solar days.
Participants can use Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 5 to build whatever is necessary for the simulation. Aside from having access to a unique virtual world, participants will be able to use various assets like rovers, suits, and more.
According to the Herox page, NASA’s challenge has been gaining a lot of positive attention from different groups wanting to contribute to the growth of NASA’s Martian Metaverse. Over 24 teams and 237 innovators are already contributing to the construction of the Martian simulation. Through a virtual reality module called Apache, upcoming astronauts could be trained in various experiences, thereby helping NASA cut costs.
It’s not the first time NASA is holding a contest available to the public. They have used Herox in the past for other challenges, too. However, it’s safe to say this one is an ambitious project, albeit with big hopes. Participants would actually be providing tools that might be used for space missions in the coming years.
There are plans for the U.S. government to have boots on Mars by 2040. So, developing NASA’s Martian Metaverse simulation might help the mission’s success rate.
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