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How Buzz Aldrin Took a Virtual Walk on Mars

Aldrin is a part of a new exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center called, appropriately enough, 'Destination: Mars.'

We all love Buzz Aldrin for his commitment to do anything to promote space exploration. The second man on the moon did the "moonwalk" for Dancing With the Stars back in 2010. He's authored multiple books, with the spry 86-year-old focusing on Mars in two recent missives (Mission to Mars and Welcome to Mars).

And now he's walked on Mars. Virtually, of course.

ANALYSIS: The First Humans on Mars will be Virtual Explorers

Aldrin is a part of a new exhibit at NASA's Kennedy Space Center called, appropriately enough, "Destination: Mars." As a holograph, NASA felt he would help bring the barren landscape alive as he described his red-tinged surroundings. And it's finally a chance for the public to get a glimpse of the new virtual reality software the agency is using to explore the Red Planet.

"Buzz Aldrin has made it a focus of his life in recent years to promote exploration in general and specifically to Mars," said Jeff Norris, mission operations innovation lead at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, in an interview with Discovery News.

"We, on the other hand, were addressing a challenge (with the exhibit), which is Mars is awfully empty and we wanted there to be a guide to this experience," he added. "People felt they should have a person who could explain to them and capture some of the facts of the environment, the emotions of this experience of exploring Mars."

Immerse Yourself: 10 Amazing Virtual Reality Games

Curiosity driver Erisa Hines stands next to the rover as a holograph in the "Destination: Mars" exhibit. | NASA/JPL-Caltech/Microsoft

The exhibit is a demonstration of OnSight, a platform NASA is starting to use to direct the Curiosity rover. A small group of test engineers wearing Microsoft HoloLens headsets have periodic "meetings" on Mars, standing in the same location where Curiosity is. The early feedback is that it is easier to see where Curiosity should go next, Norris said.

ANALYSIS: How Virtual Reality is Hitting the ‘Space Workplace'

"We are learning what we need to learn so we can scale the number of scientists who are using OnSight and support the rover in the months ahead, and for the next mission, the Mars 2020 mission," Norris said. There is another, older rover on Mars called Opportunity, but there are no plans yet to include it in the program although it could technically be done, he added.

Virtual reality is also invading other areas of space. Astronauts on the International Space Station recently did a checkout of Operation Sidekick, which allows controllers on the ground to guide astronauts through certain procedures (by watching over their shoulders, or by providing holographic diagrams.)

click to play video

The early tests included confirming the device can communicate with the ground (including Skype calls), tracking its position inside the space station, and drawing holographic annotations. There is no firm date yet for moving it to operational status, but the HoloLens are on station for when the time comes.

ANALYSIS: Virtual Reality Nature Walks for Astronauts?

HoloLens was also tested in the Aquarius underwater laboratory last year as a part of project NEEMO, where astronauts spend a couple of weeks underwater perfecting techniques for different kinds of space exploration (such as the ISS or even going on an asteroid.) It served as a great first test for the HoloLens because there are technicians in the habitat who are experts in operating Aquarius, Norris said. So the astronauts could be given procedures in maintaining the habitat, with the added "safety net" of an expert right there should the procedures not help the problem.

A less-publicized use of the HoloLens is for an application called ProtoSpace, which is used for visualization of spacecraft designs. Some of the missions it is being used for include the Mars 2020 rover mission and the future Europa orbiter that is expected to head out to Jupiter's moon in a couple of decades.

Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin made a special appearance “on Mars” as part of a new exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

This past week in Las Vegas, thousands of people attended the Consumer Electronics Show, where exhibitors showed off the latest in electronic devices. Among the technologies trending were virtual reality gadgets. From goggles to full-body suits to omni-directional treadmills, here's a look at the latest advances in virtual reality.

Microsoft's HoloLens is a wearable holographic system that works with Windows 10. It allows people to project apps onto a variety of surfaces and use them to visualize data, CAD renderings and more.

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3-D HoloLens Augments House And Office[

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The long-awaited release date of the Oculus Rift system has finally arrived. Looks like the VR goggles will ship in March at a cost of about $599. Pre-orders available now.

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Get Handsy With Haptic Tech

At the Consumer Electronics Show, Samsung showed off its Gear VR, an Oculus headset that accommodates a Samsung Galaxy smartphone. The company also demonstrated Rink, a pair of handheld, gesture-based controllers meant to be used with the Samsung Gear VR.

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3-D Projected Holograms That Shined

Look out gamers. PlayStation announced that it's working on more than 100 new games for its forthcoming virtual reality headset.

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Video Game Fails: Slide Show

Google Cardboard's inexpensive virtual reality goggles inspired others to produce cheaper versions that are compatible with the company's apps. Speck announced its Pocket VR and I Am Cardboard announced its DSCVR Headset -- both designed to display content created for Google's Cardboard VR.

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Top 10 Google Map Adventures Of 2015: Photos

At the Consumer Electronics Show, HTC released its Vive Pre, a headset meant mainly for developers. It has a front-facing camera that gives wearers a view into the real world. The consumer version of the Vive is expected to begin shipping in April.

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10 Tech Trends For 2016

Along with the goggles and headsets that make virtual reality possible, electronic companies are also coming out with gadgets the expand the sensory limits beyond vision. For example, the Tesla Suit from Tesla Studios is a full-body suit that contains small sensors that send out tiny electrical pulses to stimulate different parts of the body, depending on the action happening in the virtual world. You can help fund the Kickstarter campaign

here

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10 Wearable Techs that Dressed up 2015

The Vico VR is a wireless tracking device that senses a person's body movements and incorporates those movements in real-time into the virtual world. Here, a player uses the sensor to box.

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This Is Your Brain On Virtual Reality

Virtuix announced its omni-directional treadmill at last year's Consumer Electronics Show, but this year they used it to host the first-ever eSports tournament in VR. There were four HTC Vive headsets connected to four treadmills. Participants could sign up to join a competitive multiplayer shooter game called Omni Arena.

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Virtual Reality Enters a New Dimension