Delivering Real-time, Virtual Reality for Mars-500 Expedition Crew
The international virtual space expedition, “Mars-500,” composed of six cosmonauts and astronauts from Russia, the European Union and China, started on June 3, 2010, and reached a new milestone in February 2011. Last June, the state research center of the Institute of the Medical and Biological Problems of RAS (IMPB) started a 520-day international experiment, simulating a manned flight to Mars. The main aims of the project are to study medical, biological, psychological, technical and organizational aspects of an actual, planned long-run interplanetary expedition, as well as train the crew.
To achieve these goals, NVIDIA Quadro professional graphics solutions, with their massively parallel processing capabilities, have become an important component of modeling and displaying the virtual reality of the flight to the ‘red planet.’
The landing portion of the virtual expedition, which started 240 days after the flight began last June, is one of the key aspects of the project. When the expedition reached the near-Mars orbit on February 12, three crewmen moved to the take-off and landing suite, where they carried out the landing to the Mars surface, and will be conducting research studies on the planet the rest of this month.
Helping with the project is JCSI Group, Russia’s largest provider of broadcast automation, computer graphics and digital movie services, which also develops and deploys real-time, 3-D visualization technologies, virtual reality and industrial design.
In order to fulfill take off and landing, and model the cosmonauts’ and astronauts’ activity on the Mars surface, JCSI created a 3-D, interactive, 10×10 km virtual model of the Red planet’s surface, equipping one of the modules of the terrestrial experimental suite with a virtual reality modeling system.
This powerful system utilizes a professional workstation equipped with a pair of NVIDIA Quadro professional graphics processing units (GPUs), which render real-time complex interactive graphics scenes on two 26-inch, high-resolution monitors (running at 1920?1200). Depending on the application these monitors display control panels of moving objects, including: the takeoff and landing suite; automatic and manned Mars-rovers; and 3D animated models of spacemen. In addition, the display also shows information on the external environment, which reflects the main features of the Mars landscape — low natural illumination, dust storms and other atmospheric phenomena unique to Mars.
“NVIDIA’s Quadro professional graphics were chosen to solve the complex problems of real-time processing and visualization of the 3-D environment,” said Evgeny Chernyakov, CEO of JCSI. “The model we created is intended to simultaneously render complex landscapes, various special effects (dust storms, meteorite showers) and correctly manage moving objects like the Mars Rovers. Chernyakov concludes, “Such problems can be solved only with a top visualization solution, such as NVIDIA Quadro. We achieved great results, pushing the limits of visualization.”
In addition to utilizing NVIDIA Quadro pro graphics, the workstation is connected to a full-color helmet display system with a ‘head attitude position sensor,’ which lets the user feel like he’s inside a spacesuit. Various interactive tasks are done with two multifunctional joysticks, including: choosing required tools, selecting soil samples, and placing scientific instruments on the field.
The cosmonauts and astronauts in orbit also took part in the project’s Mars landing with NVIDIA 3D Vision stereoscopic viewing technology. A part of the content prepared for the 3-D virtual reality model was copied to their notebook PCs. This is useful in providing high-quality, 3-D stereoscopic images to deliver the required level of psychophysiological stress as part of the research study.