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How NASA is Using Unreal Engine 5 to Train for Mars

How NASA is Using Unreal Engine 5 to Train for Mars

If you ever dreamed of exploring Mars, you might be interested in what NASA is doing with Unreal Engine 5, the latest and most powerful game engine from Epic Games. NASA is using Unreal Engine 5 to create a virtual reality environment that will help prepare astronauts for life on Mars. The project is called Mars XR Operations Support System (XOSS), and it is a collaboration between NASA, Buendea, and the developer community.

What is XOSS?

XOSS is a virtual reality testbed that simulates extravehicular activities (EVAs) on the surface of Mars. EVAs are the tasks that astronauts perform outside their spacecraft, such as building a base, conducting scientific research, maintaining equipment, and exploring the terrain. XOSS aims to provide an immersive, engaging, and realistic experience that will help astronauts train for the challenges and opportunities of living on the Red Planet.

XOSS is built using Unreal Engine 5, which is a game engine that allows developers to create stunning and lifelike graphics, physics, and sound. Unreal Engine 5 also supports advanced features such as ray tracing, nanite, and lumen, which enable dynamic lighting, shadows, and reflections. Unreal Engine 5 is not only used for games, but also for movies, animations, simulations, and more.

How is XOSS developed?

XOSS is still in its early stages, and NASA is inviting developers to contribute to its development. NASA has launched a challenge called NASA MarsXR Challenge, which is hosted by HeroX, a platform for crowdsourcing solutions. The challenge is open to anyone who can create assets and scenarios for XOSS using Unreal Engine 5. Assets are the objects and elements that populate the virtual world, such as suits, rovers, buildings, tools, and plants. Scenarios are the situations and events that occur in the virtual world, such as weather, hazards, missions, and emergencies.

The challenge has five categories: Set Up Camp, Scientific Research, Maintenance, Exploration, and Blow Our Minds. Each category has a specific theme and goal, and participants can submit to one or more categories. The challenge offers a prize pool of $70,000, and the winners will have the opportunity to participate in a conversation with the NASA team developing and using XOSS.

The first phase of the challenge, which involved creating storyboards for the scenarios, was completed in July 2022. The second phase, which involved developing the scenarios using Unreal Engine 5, was completed in November 2023. NASA announced the winners of the second phase during a virtual awards ceremony. The winning scenarios included:

  • A simulation of a dust storm that affects the visibility and communication of the crew.
  • A simulation of a rover breakdown that requires the crew to repair it using 3D printing and biomanufacturing.
  • A simulation of a meteor impact that damages the base and causes a fire2.
  • A simulation of a scientific mission that involves collecting and analyzing samples of Martian rocks and soil.
  • A simulation of a recreational activity that involves playing golf on Mars.

Why is XOSS important?

XOSS is important because it will help NASA achieve its goal of sending humans to Mars in the 2030s. Mars is a very different and hostile environment compared to Earth, and astronauts need to be prepared for the physical and mental challenges they will face. XOSS will allow astronauts to experience and practice various aspects of Mars life, such as:

  • Building a home base that can provide shelter, power, and communication
  • Performing maintenance on automated robots that can assist with tasks and exploration
  • Exploring the planet on foot or by rover, and collecting samples and data
  • Conducting detailed scientific research on the geology, climate, and biology of Mars
  • Dealing with emergencies and contingencies that may arise

XOSS will also help NASA test and evaluate new technologies and procedures that will be used for Mars missions, such as:

  • Using virtual reality and augmented reality to enhance situational awareness and collaboration
  • Using artificial intelligence and machine learning to optimize performance and decision making
  • Using haptic feedback and motion capture to simulate realistic movements and sensations
  • Using 3D printing and biomanufacturing to create and repair materials and devices

XOSS is not only a tool for training and testing, but also a platform for innovation and creativity. By using Unreal Engine 5, NASA can leverage the power and flexibility of the game engine to create a rich and dynamic virtual world that can inspire and educate both astronauts and the public. XOSS is also a way for NASA to engage and collaborate with the developer community, and to tap into the talent and passion of people who want to contribute to the future of space exploration.

How can you get involved?

If you are interested in participating in the NASA MarsXR Challenge, you can visit the HeroX website for more details and instructions. The submission deadline for the second phase was November 2, 20232, but you can still check out the winning submissions and the feedback from the judges. You can also download Unreal Engine 5 for free from the Epic Games website and try to create your own scenarios for XOSS. You will need to follow the guidelines and requirements of the challenge, such as using NASA and Buendea’s assets and terrain, and adhering to the technical and ethical standards of NASA.

If you are not a developer, but still want to learn more about XOSS and NASA’s Mars plans, you can visit the NASA website for more information and updates. You can also watch the video from IGN Science, which features an interview with Patrick Estep, a human performance engineer at NASA Johnson, who explains the goals and benefits of XOSS.

XOSS is an exciting and ambitious project that will help NASA and humanity prepare for the next frontier of space exploration. By using Unreal Engine 5, NASA is creating a virtual reality environment that will simulate the wonders and challenges of Mars, and that will allow astronauts and developers to collaborate and innovate. XOSS is not only a game, but a vision of the future.

And who knows, maybe one day you will be able to play golf on Mars too. Just don’t forget to bring your own clubs. 🏌️‍♀️


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