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September 2016

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Page 35 of 51 34 POST SEPTEMBER 2016 n 2015, actor Matt Damon and director Ridley Scott renewed our fascination with the Red Planet in the science-fiction film The Martian, about the crew of the fictional Ares III manned mission to Mars to explore the Acidalia Planitia. When a dust storm threatens to topple their Mars Ascent Vehicle, they make a hasty exit and leave the planet. It's then that one of the astronauts, played by Damon, is injured and, believed to be dead, is left behind. When he comes to, he makes his way to the habitat, where he must survive until the Ares IV arrives at the Schiaparelli crater…in four years. The movie was a box-office success. And, it piqued the interest of many who hold a fascination of living on another planet. Although digital artists consulted scientists when re-creating the planet, the movie leans more to fiction than fact. For instance, due to the atmosphere, a dust storm would not have enough force to blow the rocket ship over in the opening sequence, says one expert commenting on the film's science. Nevertheless, film- makers attempted to provide a reason- able snapshot of what life would be like on Mars, while remaining true to its main mission of entertaining audiences. Soon, though, the public will have a new opportunity to return to Mars, this time in a scientifically-accurate, virtual-re- ality experience that is educational as well as entertaining. Called Mars 2030, the experience — created by game devel- opers with a fascination for this faraway planet — will give earthlings a taste of what it is like to be on Mars. Heading up this venture is Fusion, with Julian Reyes at the helm, as lead VR producer. Reyes, like most of his crew on Mars 2030, has an extensive background in game development. Most of them, in fact, have full-time positions at game compa- nies, working on Mars 2030 after-hours. It was a combination of his fascination with science and his expertise with realtime im- agery that led to this novel project. Reyes started on this journey in 2014 after reading a technical paper by some grad students from MIT's Aero/Astro Lab. They were writing a report on the Mars One initiative — a private, one-way mis- sion to Mars to establish a permanent hu- man settlement — challenging a number of proposals of that mission. "I spoke to them, and they provided some scientific papers on habitation, crew health, space suits, and after I read through them, I had a clearer idea of where we stood and where the technology stood on an actual mission to Mars," says Reyes. After more discussions, Reyes decid- ed he wanted to create a VR experience based on the Mars research. It would take close to two years to forge an agreement with NASA whereby both Fusion and NASA would share their work. "We signed a Space Act Agreement with them," says Reyes. "They agreed to share additional research with us so we could get this [experience] right." Similarly, Fusion will provide its data to NASA for use in its virtual-reality lab, for instance, where as- tronauts are trained to operate, maintain and fix systems. "We went to the Johnson Space Center and got to drive the latest rover, talk to the scientists, see the new space suit prototypes and visit the crew health [experts] to talk about the psychological impact of living on Mars, and then start- ed to build this out," says Reyes. "I have always been a giant space fan. This was a dream come true." RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT The goal of Mars 2030 — named for the expected time frame of placing man on Mars — is to gain an understanding of why some people want to go to Mars and the implications of such a mission. "To identify with [Mars One], we are current- ly on a mission to Mars ourselves," says Reyes. "Through our downloadable VR experience, everyone will have a chance to go to Mars." Reyes knew from the start that the VR project would be complex, and thus brought several others on board as con- tractors to assist the small team at Fusion. GRAVITATIONAL PULL SPECIAL REPORT: REALITY virtual GAME ARTISTS USE SCIENTIFIC DATA TO RE-CREATE MARS FOR A COMPELLING VR EXPERIENCE BY KAREN MOLTENBREY I

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