Given that astronauts on the International Space Station were perhaps further away from E3 than any of the rest of us, Microsoft decided to send them a couple of HoloLens augmented reality headsets to try out. However… the headsets were packed into the Falcon 9 rocket that launched this week… and exploded just two minutes into the flight.
It’s believed the explosion happened due to a failure in one of the unmanned SpaceX resupply ship’s oxygen tanks, and if the 2,500kg of cargo (including science experiments and equipment, and much-needed food and supplies) survived the explosion, it was inevitably burned up on re-entry as it fell back to Earth.
Technically, the HoloLens wasn’t really being sent up to the ISS for a bit of interstellar 3D Minecraft (but we hope that was included as well). NASA and Microsoft have been working together on the technology, which has multiple potential uses in science and aeronautics. On Earth, NASA has been using HoloLens to simulate the Martian environment as recorded by the Curiosiy rover.
On the ISS, two new modes – one which overlaid animated instruction sets into a crew member’s field of view, and the other, which would give Earth-bound crew members the ability to virtually look through the eyes of an astronaut – were planned to give the teams a chance to experiment with the headsets, sharing visual information between the crew in space and the crew on the ground in new ways.
The latest explosion – with the cause still unknown – is the latest in a list of setbacks for NASA and SpaceX, with the team sent back to the drawing board yet again. The past few years, the companies have been working towards a goal of creating, launching and then landing a Falcon 9 booster stage safely on Earth, making it a reusable product. Recent attempts have seen the stage fall into the ocean, with this flight planned to attempt a landing at California’s Vandenburg Airforce Base.
SpaceX company founder Elon Musk explains the team is now scouring data with a fine-toothed comb (okay, a hex editor) to try and uncover the cause of the crash, which remains a mystery after “several thousand engineering-hours of review”. It’s believed a new flight is already being planned.