Mission simulation has historically played a big part in space exploration by helping astronauts to better prepare for the unknown. Now NASA is looking to afford owners of popular VR headsets a similarly immersive experience with Mars 2030, a virtual reality experience aimed at giving users a feel for life on the Red Planet.

NASA scientists have been looking at virtual reality as a means of gaining new insights into the Martian landscape for sometime. Earlier this year it announced its Onsight software, which through a collaboration with Microsoft invited its researchers to use Microsoft's Hololens to explore a virtual 3D environment built with data gathered by the Curiosity rover.

Now the space agency is extending this invitation to the general public. Mars 2030 is the result of a collaboration between NASA, MIT's Space Systems Laboratory and multi-platform media firm Fusion Media and is based on the hardware and operational concepts being studied today. It will be freely available for owners of Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear VR and Oculus Rift, which is set to launch in the first quarter of 2016. Versions will also be available for iOS and Android via iTunes and Google Play.

"Beyond practical uses for training, virtual reality offers us a compelling method to share the work we've been doing to design sustainable human missions and to inspire the next generation of pioneers in space," says Jason Crusan, director of NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems Division. "We're grateful for the opportunity to bring FUSION's virtual experience as close to reality as we know it based on years of Mars surface architecture studies."

Mars 2030 is expected to debut at South by Southwest in Texas in March 2016.

Source: NASA