Holographic DOCTOR visits the International Space Station

Beam me up, NASA! Holographic DOCTOR visits the International Space Station – and even shares a handshake with one astronaut

  • NASA has revealed how holographic doctor ‘visited’ International Space Station
  • Flight surgeon Josef Schmid was first human ‘holoported’ from Earth into space
  • He used Microsoft Hololens Kinect camera and computer with custom software
  • Astronaut Thomas Pesquet had two-way conversation with live image of Schmid

It may sound more like a scene from Star Trek, but a NASA doctor and his team have become the first humans to be ‘holoported’ from Earth into space.

Flight surgeon Dr Josef Schmid suddenly found himself beamed to the middle of the International Space Station (ISS), where he was able to enjoy a two-way conversation and even share a handshake with French astronaut Thomas Pesquet.

Holoportation is a type of technology that allows high-quality 3D models of people to be reconstructed, compressed and transmitted live anywhere in real time, Dr Schmid said.

When combined with mixed reality displays such as Microsoft’s HoloLens, it allows users to see, hear, and interact with remote participants in 3D as if they are actually present in the same physical space. 

It may sound more like a scene from Star Trek, but NASA doctor Dr Josef Schmid (pictured) and his team have become the first humans to be ‘holoported’ from Earth into space

Dr Schmid suddenly found himself beamed to the middle of the International Space Station, where he was able to enjoy a two-way conversation and even share a handshake with astronaut Thomas Pesquet (pictured)

WHAT IS HOLOPORTATION?

Holoportation has been in use since at least 2016 by Microsoft, but this is the first use in such an extreme and remote environment such as space. 

It is a new type of 3D capture technology that allows high-quality 3D models of people to be reconstructed, compressed and transmitted anywhere in the world in real time.

When combined with mixed reality displays such as HoloLens, the technology allows users to see, hear, and interact with remote participants in 3D as if they are actually present in the same physical space.

Microsoft, which has developed the technology to be used with its Hololens Kinect camera, said it would allow ‘communicating and interacting with remote users’ to become ‘as natural as face-to-face communication’.

Holoportation has been used by Microsoft since 2016, but this is the first time the technology has been deployed in such an extreme and remote environment as space.

‘This is completely new manner of human communication across vast distances,’ Dr Schmid said. 

‘Furthermore, it is a brand-new way of human exploration, where our human entity is able to travel off the planet. Our physical body is not there, but our human entity absolutely is there.

‘It doesn’t matter that the space station is traveling 17,500 mph and in constant motion in orbit 250 miles above Earth, the astronaut can come back three minutes or three weeks later and with the system running, we will be there in that spot, live on the space station.’

NASA said that during almost two years of the Covid pandemic, ‘the growth of telemedicine and new ways of reaching people had changed and developed’.

It said Dr Schmid, industry partner AEXA Aerospace CEO Fernando De La Pena Llaca, and their teams were ‘holoported’ to the ISS in October last year. 

Using Microsoft’s Hololens Kinect camera and a computer with custom software from Aexa, European Space Agency astronaut Pesquet had a two-way conversation with live images of Dr Schmid and De La Pena placed in the middle of the ISS.

NASA said it was demonstrating this new form of communication as a precursor for more extensive use on future missions. 

It plans to use it for more two-way communication, with people on Earth holoported to space and astronauts are placed back on earth. 

‘We’ll use this for our private medical conferences, private psychiatric conferences, private family conferences and to bring VIPs onto the space station to visit with astronauts,’ Dr Schmid said.

The next step after that is to combine holoportation with augmented reality, to truly enable Tele-mentoring.

‘Imagine you can bring the best instructor or the actual designer of a particularly complex technology right beside you wherever you might be working on it,’ Dr Schmid said.

‘Furthermore, we will combine augmented reality with haptics. You can work on the device together, much like two of the best surgeons working during an operation. 

‘This would put everyone at rest knowing the best team is working together on a critical piece of hardware.’

Holoportation and tools like it could be of great use for future deep space missions. 

As plans shape up for missions to Mars, an obstacle to overcome will be the communication delays that are present during the travel to and from the Red Planet, NASA said. 

A delay of up to 20 minutes each way will present a unique challenge to communication whether through simple radio transmissions, video streams or new methods such as Holoportation. 

Communication is critical, whether for medical or mission support reasons, or staying in touch with family members. 

The crew will need to be connected with Earth and Mission Control, no matter where humans explore.

There are also direct applications here on Earth, the US space agency said.

Whether in extreme environments such as Antarctica or offshore oil rigs, this type of technology may help people in such situations communicate, bringing people together no matter the distance or environmental challenges.

EXPLAINED: THE $100 BILLION INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION SITS 250 MILES ABOVE THE EARTH

The International Space Station (ISS) is a $100 billion (£80 billion) science and engineering laboratory that orbits 250 miles (400 km) above Earth.

It has been permanently staffed by rotating crews of astronauts and cosmonauts since November 2000. 

Crews have come mainly from the US and Russia, but the Japanese space agency JAXA and European space agency ESA have also sent astronauts. 

The International Space Station has been continuously occupied for more than 20 years and has been expended with multiple new modules added and upgrades to systems 

Research conducted aboard the ISS often requires one or more of the unusual conditions present in low Earth orbit, such as low-gravity or oxygen.

ISS studies have investigated human research, space medicine, life sciences, physical sciences, astronomy and meteorology.

The US space agency, NASA, spends about $3 billion (£2.4 billion) a year on the space station program, with the remaining funding coming from international partners, including Europe, Russia and Japan.

So far 244 individuals from 19 countries have visited the station, and among them eight private citizens who spent up to $50 million for their visit.

There is an ongoing debate about the future of the station beyond 2025, when it is thought some of the original structure will reach ‘end of life’.

Russia, a major partner in the station, plans to launch its own orbital platform around then, with Axiom Space, a private firm, planning to send its own modules for purely commercial use to the station at the same time. 

NASA, ESA, JAXA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) are working together to build a space station in orbit around the moon, and Russia and China are working on a similar project, that would also include a base on the surface. 

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